The Philadelphia 76ers made a statement against the Boston Celtics, grinding out a 118-115 win at Wells Fargo Center, thanks to some late-game heroics from Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid.
Philly entered today's game with a 2-10 record against the Celtics going back to the beginning of last season, with today's win certain to give them plenty of confidence ahead of the playoffs, following their win over the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week.
Embiid led the way with 37 points and a career-high 22 rebounds, while Butler added 22 points of his own as the 76ers came back from as many as 15 points down in the second quarter to storm home and grab the W.
Tobias Harris added 21 points and JJ Redick 17, while Ben Simmons finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 36 points and nine rebounds, while Al Horford added 22 points and Terry Rozier 20 off the bench.
With the win, the 76ers strengthen their grip on the third seed in the Eastern Conference, moving to 47-25 on the season.
Here are four takeaways from today's big win:
Smart's ejection proves to be the turning point
Early in the second half, with the Celtics leading by 11 points, Marcus Smart was ejected after pushing Embiid in the back after the big man set a hard pick that knocked him to the floor. The pair had to be separated and Smart was tossed from the game after being assessed a flagrant 2 foul. Embiid was given a tech for his troubles.
Marcus Smart was ejected and Joel Embiid got a technical after this altercation in Philly. pic.twitter.com/qzisA0gvxO- ESPN (@espn) March 21, 2019
At this point, the game was reaching playoff-like intensity, seeming to only further motivate Embiid who went on to score 15 points in the period.
From that moment, Philly exploded on a 25-13 run to take an 83-82 lead with the electric home crowd riding every bucket in the run.
Philly outscored Boston 60-46 after Smart was ejected.
Embiid answers the call
Much has been made of the matchup between Joel Embiid and Al Horford, with the Celtics big man finding multiple ways to slow him down in the past.
Today, there was simply no answer.
An aggressive Embiid caused problems for the Celtics all night, making his living in the paint as he torched the Celtics' interior defenders time after time.
The Celtics had no choice but to foul the big man to slow him down, but Embiid made them pay at the line, converting 20-of-21 free throw attempts. The Celtics as a team were 13-of-16 at the line.
"I've been hearing that these guys can guard me better than anybody else, so I just had to come out and show that I'm the most unstoppable player in the league," Embiid said in his post-game interview.
The big man put in a complete performance, setting the tone for the 76ers on defence, coming up with a huge block on Kyrie Irving down the stretch, with the 76ers up three.
What a recovery from Joel Embiid with the game on the line 💪 pic.twitter.com/v9mHjhpOgT- NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 21, 2019
Big-time Butler takes over fourth quarter
It's these types of performances from Butler that remind you exactly why the 76ers traded for him earlier in the season. When the game is on the line, Butler is the man to take them there.
Butler had struggled through three quarters, but that all changed once the final frame began. He scored 15 of his 22 points in the fourth on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, knocking down big shot after big shot.
With Boston holding a 105-99 lead with 5:31 remaining, Butler buried back-to-back triples in the space of 30 seconds to breathe life into the 76ers.
Philly held a 119-116 lead with 24 seconds left, leaving Butler with the biggest shot of the game, draining the mid-range jumper after nearly turning the ball over.
🥶ICED 🥶@jimmybutler | #HereTheyCome pic.twitter.com/KxhUxGiHW1- * - Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 21, 2019
Butler called his own number time and time again down the stretch and that type of shot-making will go a long way to playoff success for his team.
76ers bench struggles, while Celtics shine
The 76ers starting five did their thing again today, all scoring in double figures in the win.
They're now 15-2 when all starters score in double figures, but that level of production can't be counted on every night and especially in the post-season, they will need more from their bench.
Per NBA.com, since the All-Star break, the 76ers are 29th in the league in bench scoring at 23.9 points per game, with today one of their worst showings of the season.
Boston's second unit outscored Philly's reserves 37-8, with Terry Rozier doing the bulk of the damage with 20 points on the night while the 76ers unit of Mike Scott, James Ennis III, T.J. McConnell and Boban Marjanovic combined to shoot just 3-of-16 from the field.