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Celtics 109, 76ers 101

Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum lead the way, and other observations from Celtics’ Game 1 win

Jayson Tatum beats 76ers defenders Joel Embiid (21) and Matisse Thybulle for a first-half layup.Pool/Getty

With eight minutes left in the third quarter on Monday, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown was inadvertently kneed in the thigh by Sixers center Joel Embiid on a drive to the basket. Brown yelled in pain as he limped off the court and received medical attention after checking out.

There might be a welt in the morning, but Brown certainly did not appear affected for the rest of the night. After the Celtics coughed up a double-digit lead and trailed by 6 points in the fourth quarter, Brown lifted Boston with an offensive surge, scoring 15 points of his 29 points to lock up a 109-101 win and a 1-0 lead in this opening-round playoff series.


“I’m in a lot of pain,” Brown said, “but it feels better when you win.”

Jayson Tatum poured in 32 points and 13 rebounds, but the good feelings from the win were tempered after Gordon Hayward rolled his right ankle under the Sixers’ basket with three minutes left. He limped off the court and later left the arena on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

Joel Embiid had 26 points and 16 rebounds for Philadelphia.

Observations from the game:

▪ A Hayward 3-pointer with 4:21 left in the third gave Boston a 75-66 lead that felt even larger. But the Sixers punched back with a 15-0 run to take an 81-75 lead. Most of the damage was done with Embiid on the bench. The Celtics appeared too focused on looking for calls during this stretch.

“We need to do better in those moments,” coach Brad Stevens said.

▪ Brown ended the drought with a difficult step-back 3-pointer. Then with Boston trailing by 3, Enes Kanter tussled for an offensive rebound before firing a pass to Brown for another three from the same spot on the left arc, tying the score at 86.


“A couple of Jaylen’s threes were enormous for us,” Stevens said.

Brown’s confidence has grown so much, and when he makes a clean catch the results usually turn out positive.

▪ Then he switched to attack mode, drawing a flagrant foul on Al Horford on one drive, and then drawing another foul on the same possession. He hit all four free throws to put Boston in control. When Horford is guarding Brown during this series, there will be opportunities for the 23-year-old to use his speed and attack like he did here.

▪ The Celtics’ defense was locked in at the start. Boston swarmed passing lanes, had timely traps, clogged driving attempts, and just appeared in lockstep. It was weird that the stat sheet offered no proof of that, as Philadelphia opened the game by making 9 of 10 shots. But most were tough, and the turnovers were flowing, too. It was almost like the 76ers could have used their All-Star point guard to calm things down, but Ben Simmons is out for the year with a knee injury. Boston forced 18 turnovers and committed just seven.

“Early in the season when we didn’t make shots we got frustrated and we just didn’t give it our all on the defensive end,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “But I thought today we didn’t make shots, but we tried our best to get that ball back.”

▪ Tatum started the game by hitting an open 18-footer from the right baseline. That’s rarely a good sign for opponents. Although the All-Star finished the first quarter with just three attempts, he caught fire in the second and went to halftime with 21 points and eight rebounds. His 2-for-18 night in the Orlando opener feels like decades ago.


“He just plays the game within himself and finds the next right play,” Stevens said. “He did a lot of good things.”

▪ The 32 points were nice, but Tatum was pretty pleased with his three blocks.

“If I’m trying to be one of the best players in the league, defense has got to be just as important as scoring the ball,” he said. “That’s kind of what we build our culture on here with the Celtics, taking pride in guarding your yard.”

Added Stevens: “I thought he was unbelievable defensively the whole game, talking and helping, and communicating and reading.”

▪ Walker had his bounce, and loved knowing that his minutes restriction is gone. It was put in place as a precaution that would allow Walker to focus on strengthening his left knee, but extra rest could be one extra side benefit. Teams have mostly been playing every other day for nearly three weeks.

“This was the best that I’ve felt since I’ve been in this bubble,” said Walker, who had 19 points and five assists.

▪ A rare quiet night for Marcus Smart. He was 0 for 5, which happens, but also had just 1 rebound and 1 assist in 32 minutes.


▪ Kanter was Boston’s first big man sub, which wasn’t a huge surprise given the size he brings to match up against Embiid. But the moment Embiid checked out in the first quarter, Robert Williams checked in. Williams did get a brief second-quarter stint against Embiid, and he was quickly called for a reaching foul. At the other end, though, he used his quickness to chase down his own miss and throw down a dunk. Look for Stevens to deploy Williams for non-Embiid minutes throughout this series. Grant Williams had a brief but productive stint at center in the fourth, too.

▪ There was some discussion about whether rookie defensive stopper Matisse Thybulle might enter the starting lineup for the 76ers. He did not. But when he checked in late in the first quarter, one could see why it remains a possibility. He instantly fought through a screen, caught up to Tatum and smothered his 3-pointer from behind, which almost never happens to Tatum.

▪ There is certainly nothing normal about this setup, but for some reason it didn’t seem quite as glaring during the scrimmages and seeding games. Perhaps because there was a sense that it was just a buildup for the postseason. But the reality that this was a true playoff game involving two rivals, and that instead of roaring fans there was a cacophony of sneaker squeaks, is still hard to comprehend.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.