Not many regular season games in February carry as much weight as the Boston Celtics’ matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night did.
After back-to-back brutal losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers at home, the Celtics were tasked with going on the road to face a team they potentially could see in the postseason.
The C’s entered Wells Fargo Center with their identity swinging in the breeze. Tuesday night was a gut check opportunity, and the Celtics played that way.
Overcoming the absence of Kyrie Irving, the Celtics leaned on their vets — Gordon Hayward (26 points) and Al Horford (23) — to tough out a 112-109 win over the 76ers.
With the win, Boston is 3-0 against the Sixers and clinches the regular season series. It also moved the C’s into a tie with Philly for fourth place in the East. But perhaps most importantly, Tuesday’s win showed the heart that was lacking last week.
“Good teams have clunkers,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “But good teams respond to those with the right effort and approach. That was a good one. … I thought the whole night we played the right way. We tried to stay within ourselves. We didn’t get too high or too low. We fought. That’s what you have to do to have a chance to win.”
Whether it was Marcus Morris’ criticism after the Clippers loss or the absence of Irving providing extra motivation, the Celtics seemed a more inspired team.
“We know who we are, we know the potential that we have and what we can do,” Marcus Smart said on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “And when we’re not playing to the top, to our best, sometimes it takes somebody to say something to bring you back down.”
Here are some other notes from Tuesday’s Celtics-76ers game:
— Hayward continues to provide a jolt off the bench. The 28-year-old hit 8-of-11 from the field, including a 6-for-7 effort from beyond the arc, matching a career-high.
“At the end of the day, he is a really, really good playmaker,” Stevens said, as seen on NBC Sports Boston. “And today, he also was able to play off some extra passes. And some people found him and he was able to make them.”
It was his third 20-plus-point effort of the season, his first since Jan. 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It also continued an impressive stretch over his last seven games.
— After saying he wasn’t having fun following the loss to the Clippers. Morris had a simple way to describe Tuesday’s win.
— Jayson Tatum notched a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
— Daniel Theis made his only 3-point attempt, pushing his streak to eight-straight from beyond the arc.
— It wasn’t all great from trey, as Smart went 0-for-8 from deep and is 0-for-10 from 3-point land in his last two contests.
— The Celtics held the 76ers’ newly-acquired star Tobias Harris to 10 points. He was 0-for-6 from 3-point territory.
— Boston won the turnover battle 14-6 and had nine steals.