Celtics allow nightmarish late-game rally in 105-99 loss to 76ers

Celtics allow nightmarish late-game rally in 105-99 loss to 76ers

There were a number of stretches against Philadelphia that had to have felt like a bad dream for the Boston Celtics. 

And in the game’s closing moments, the Celtics found themselves squarely in what would be a nightmarish ending as the Sixers managed to squeak out a 105-99 win. Boston had several opportunities in the closing seconds to make it a one-possession game, but one 3-pointer after another rattled off the back, front and side of the rim as time expired. 

With the loss, Boston (44-26) had its three-game winning streak snapped along with its winning streak over Philadelphia which stood at 10 in a row. 

After leading by as many as 13 points, the Celtics found themselves clinging to a lead that would eventually escape their grasp which put them in catch-up mode through a good chunk of the fourth. But with 4:55 to play, Jae Crowder made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 91. Following Crowder’s free throws, Marcus Smart drew a charge against Robert Covington. 

The Celtics couldn’t take advantage of a good offense-good defense sequence, and soon found themselves back playing from behind following a 3-pointer by Robert Covington.

A lay-up by Amir Johnson made it a one-point game only for Philadelphia’s Dario Saric converting a lay-up in traffic. A lay-up by Smart was followed by a T.J. McConnell jumper that put the Celtics down by three with about two minutes to play. 

Saric scored on a drive to the basket that put the Sixers ahead 100-95 with less than a minute to play that would ultimately prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome. Saric, who finished with 23 points and five rebounds for Philadelphia (26-43), was indeed the difference-maker for the Sixers down the stretch.

But for most of the game, it was Al Horford who had the hot hand. The 6-foot-10 big man had 27 points – the most he has had as a Celtic – couldn’t duplicate the dominance he displayed through the first three quarters, down the stretch. He also had eight rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.

And as the Celtics offense struggled to make plays down the stretch, it served as a painful reminder of just how lost this team is in the closing moments of games without Isaiah Thomas. Not only is Thomas the team’s top scorer, but he also leads the NBA in fourth quarter scoring this season. 

While there were a number of Celtics who picked up some of the slack in Thomas’ absence, no one could deliver in the fourth the way Thomas has for most of this season. 

As for the Sixers, Saric was just one of several players whose play was instrumental in Philly getting the win. In addition to his big game, Covington had 16 points and eight rebounds whose play added to a nightmarish game for the Celtics who failed to gain ground on East-leading Cleveland with the loss.

Hayward: No one thing led him to Celtics, 'just a gut feeling'

Hayward: No one thing led him to Celtics, 'just a gut feeling'

In the end, what was it that led this summer's most coveted free agent, Gordon Hayward, to finally choose the Celtics?

"I don't know if there was one thing," Hayward told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on "The Woj Podcast" released Monday. "I think if I would've stayed in Utah, we would've been really good. It would've been a great situation for me. My family would have been happy. We loved it there.

"It was a different feeling in Boston that we had. It was like a gut feeling. When we broke it down, the city, the coaching staff, the players. The feeling of putting on a Boston Celtics uniform and competing for a title outweighed everything."

MORE CELTICS

More highlights from Hayward's first extended one-on-one interview since choosing the Celtics over the Utah Jazz and Miami Heat on July 4:

When is he moving to Boston?

"Early September," Hayward said. "We've found a place and we're in the process of moving our stuff back there. We're excited. With two little girls, we'd like to find some places we can go to all the time with little things they'd like to do."

On seeing [his former Butler coach] Brad Stevens there to greet him at Logan Airport on his Celtics visit: 

"I'm taking pictures at baggage claim with Brad and the fans. I had an immediate sense of familiarity...It did take me back to recruiting days...The relationship between Brad and I has been completely overstated and overhyped. There's always been rumors but those were just rumors. We had a great relationship but it wasn't like we were always texting each other. Everybody made it seem like we were besties and it wasn't like that.

"He immediately called me July 1 [after free agency opened] and I thought, 'Oh no this isn't going to be any different [from Butler]'"

On his visit to Fenway Park when the Celtics made their pitch to him:

"I'm not a baseball person at all but that was still really cool."

On his return visit to Boston after he announced he would sign with the Celtics:

"We went back to Boston and we were going to do the press conference there [it ended up being a conference call from his home near San Diego] I actually forgot my suit. We were going to go to Saks but we didn't have time. So we jumped in the car and went to Joseph A. Bank, which I got killed about [on social media]. We were walking around the city, we didn't know, and we could just feel it then though, you could feel the intensity. We went to dinner and went to the North End and I got my haircut. We kind of just jumped in and everyone was so excited and telling me they were happy I was in Boston. We almost just had a night in the heart of Boston and that was really cool." 

On the Celtics' history: 

"For Larry [Bird], I think was a little too young [to have grown up watching him]. Celtic lore to me because is how invested the fans are and how invested the organization is in winning. For me, it was a lot of you know I want to try to continue that greatness with the team they have now." 

What did Isaiah Thomas tell him on his visit?

"We really talked about going and getting Banner 18 more than anything. That was really the focus."

Report: Celtics have called Cavaliers about potential Kyrie Irving trade

Report: Celtics have called Cavaliers about potential Kyrie Irving trade

Celtics fans aren’t the only ones thinking of ways Kyrie Irving could end up in Boston.

Even though it would be hard to imagine last season’s No. 2 seed in the East trading one of the best players in the league to last season’s No. 1 seed in the East, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote Monday that the Celtics have indeed called the Cavs about the 25-year-old point guard. 

Wrote Lowe:

Most teams, including the asset-rich Celtics, have placed the obligatory call letting Cleveland know they would like to be kept in the loop, sources say. Boston could offer Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and one of their golden picks -- Brooklyn's pick next season, or the Lakers/Kings pick they got from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal. It's unclear if they would dangle all of that, but those picks could represent the young stud Cleveland needs. Regardless, a deal between the East's two best teams seems unlikely.

While nobody’s counting on Irving joining the Celtics, a trade of Irving elsewhere could still swing the balance in the East in Boston’s favor depending on what Cleveland gets back. Irving reportedly requested a trade from Cleveland earlier this month.