Win over the Celtics was the statement these Sixers needed

By Vincent Frank
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers were built to play basketball deep into May. General manager Elton Brand adding Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris in separate in-season trades magnified this further.

Even then, this young Sixers squad had continually failed to get over the Boston Celtics’ hurdle. Playoffs included, Philadelphia had lost 20 of 23 against its conference rivals.

One game in March — no matter how important it might have been to Sixers head coach Brett Brown — might not change the overall landscape of the Eastern Conference. But it could go a long way in providing Philadephia with the confidence to succeed in April and beyond.

From a tesy situation between Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart to Jimmy Butler’s dagger over Kyrie Irving late in the fourth quarter, Wednesday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center offered us a lot.

In the end, Philadelphia made its home crowd happy with a 118-115 win over Boston to avoid the season sweep.

Here’s why this narrow victory was a statement for Brett Brown and the Sixers.

Joel Embiid came to play: It was not about the trash talk.

  • Embiid had previously noted that Boston-Philadelphia wasn’t a real rivalry because the former dominated in recent games.
  • He did everything possible to change that Wednesday — scoring 37 points while grabbing 22 rebounds. Embiid’s late-game block of Kyrie Irving also pretty much ended this one.
  • Prior to Wednesday’s game, Embiid was averaging 26.7 points and 13.3 rebounds against Boston this season. But other members of the Sixers stepped up.

Yes, that includes Ben Simmons: He came up huge at the end.

  • With the game tied at 113 and less than a minute left, Simmons finished an And-1. This came after a brilliant drive to the hoop and finish over Al Horford.
  • Shooting just 60 percent from the free-throw line this season, Simmons calmly knocked it down from the charity stripe. In a big-game situation, this showed his maturation process.
  • Philadephia will need Simmons to continue proving he’s a matchup problem as the calendar turns to April.

Finishing it out: Philly came up big when it counted.

  • Two of the first three games between these rivals were narrow affairs. Boston came out on top in overtime back in December, 121-14. It then handed Philly a three-point home loss last month.
  • Given the track record we’ve seen between these two teams, most figured Boston would come away with a narrow victory.
  • Instead, the likes of Simmons and Embiid put Philadelphia on their backs. They are the stars. They must continue to step up.

The standings: Philadelphia furthered the gap between itself and Boston.

  • Heading into Wednesday’s game, Philadelphia stood at 46-25 and was the No. 3 seed. While it has an outside shot at a top-two spot, other teams were zeroing in on this squad.
  • By virtue of this win, the Sixers now find themselves four games ahead of Boston for home-court advantage in the first round.
  • As we saw at the Wells Fargo Center, this home-court advantage could prove pivotal in the postseason.