Avery Bradley led the Celtics Friday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
The Celtics are lucky their best big man was also their most clutch 3-point shooter Friday night.
On a night when Joel Embiid owned the paint with 23 points and eight rebounds, Al Horford countered with 19 points and 12 rebounds, including three threes in the final 12 minutes to allow Boston to escape, 110-106, at TD Garden.
Horford connected on the decisive three with 17.2 seconds left to put the Celtics up 107-106. Boston won for ninth time in 11 games to improve to 22-14 on the season.
The Celtics can also count themselves fortunate that Ben Simmons – who traveled with Philly for the first time Friday – was not in uniform and playing. If he were, the Celtics would not have had enough answers.
Sixers coach Brett Brown raved and raved and raved pregame about Isaiah Thomas. Then Avery Bradley came out and dropped 14 points in the opening quarter against Philly to remind him and everyone else just how good the Celtics (at least on offense) can be when it’s not just Thomas doing the scoring.
On the night that the Celtics handed out pamphlets pushing Bradley as their second worthy All-Star candidate, the guard made the team’s media relations department look smart.
The Sixers abused the Celtics in the first half in the paint, outscoring the Celtics, 30-6, and taking a commanding 62-51 lead.
Philadelphia showed the glimpses of the team they might become if Ben Simmons comes back healthy and joins the likes of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova. There was the monstrous block of Al Horford from behind by Noel midway through the first half. There was the 17 points in 14 minutes from Embiid. And Ersan Ilyasova poured in 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep.
In the first half, the 9-24 visitors were clearly the more athletic and energetic team.
(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)
The fact that the young Sixers came out strong and with energy in the opening 24 minutes should not concern Celtics fans.
The face that they dominated the Celtics physically in their own building should. Al Horford did have 10 rebounds and was 1-for-7 from the field. But the rest of Boston’s inside game was MIA.
Ironically, it was Thomas who was struggling badly to start the game, matching a season-high with five turnovers in the first 17 minutes of the game.
The Sixers haven’t won a game in Boston since the end of the 2013-14 season, Stevens’ first in Boston and a season that ended 25-57. That year, the Sixers took three of four from the Celtics. Including Friday, the Celtics have now won 10 straight from the Sixers.
With 11:34 left in the fourth, the Celtics finally drew back even when Marcus Smart got into the paint and threw one up and in. On the next possession, the Celtics took their first lead since 27-25 early in the second quarter.
With 7:33, the Sixers reclaimed the lead, 90-89, on a Noel alley-oop dunk after the Celtics went up by five, 89-84. But the Celtics came back with a three from Horford to take the lead. Horford did it again five minutes later to snap a 97-97 tie. Horford’s third three of the fourth put the Celtics up, 107-106, with 17.2 seconds left.