Boston, MA– It seems like the aspirations for a seed as high as number three in the Eastern Conference playoffs bracket have been quelled a bit and the Celtics will likely be settling for a position in the first round matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds. After all, if the Celtics wanted to make a run at a higher seed, yesterday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers was a must-win. They can still pull it off, obviously, but the loss to Philadelphia makes things a bit harder.
Kyrie Irving led the way for the Celtics with 36 points and nine rebounds as Al Horford returned to the lineup in full to net 22 points, but it was not enough as the Celtics were dominated by the 76ers' top star, Joel Embiid. Embiid exploded for 37 points and 22 rebounds to lead the 76ers to a narrow, thrilling, late-game comeback for a victory over Boston by a score of 118-115.
It was a tough loss for Boston, but they've proven they can hang with the 76ers throughout the season; this one just happened to get away from them. Losing this game can be a great learning experience about crunch time resilience, so long as Brad Stevens can help guide the team to a better frame of mind after a demoralizing loss. We will see the effects of that on Saturday when the Celtics travel to North Carolina to face off against the Charlotte Hornets.
Gordon Hayward is expected to return to the team against the Hornets after his stint in concussion protocol, but Aron Baynes may not make the trip after leaving yesterday's game with a grade-2 ankle sprain.
The Celtics also saw Marcus Smart leave the game early by means of an ejection after he shoved Embiid after a series of aggressions between the two. Embiid received a technical foul for his role in the series of events that led to Smart's ejection and later called it a "cheap move" on Smart's part. Celtics fan know, however, that that's just part of how Smart plays the game.