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.