Jayson Tatum was out, and Jaylen Brown got himself in foul trouble early for the Celtics.
But that’s the luxury of having Kemba Walker back in the starting lineup, because he and Marcus Smart are there to pick up the slack. That was the case Wednesday, despite a 117-109 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Smart was fantastic in the second half especially, keeping Boston in it while Walker was sidelined to manage his minutes restriction, scoring 15 of his 25 points in the last two quarters.
Walker, meanwhile, en route to his 19-point performance with six assists and two rebounds, played well off Daniel Theis and helped the center shine, as well.
But the Celtics shot 13-for-20 from the free throw line, all while 76ers star Joel Embiid played out of his mind.
Embiid had 42 points and 10 rebounds in the contest, proving too much for Boston to handle as the 76ers improved to 10-5.
Boston, meanwhile, fell to 8-5.
Brown finished with a team-high 26 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Theis added 23 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Here’s how it all went down:
PG: Kemba Walker
C: Tristan Thompson
G: Marcus Smart
G: Jaylen Brown
PF: Grant Williams
EMBIID TOO HARD TO CONTAIN
Walker started things off for Boston hitting a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game.
The early lead wasn’t sustainable, though, as Embiid cruised out to 12 first-quarter points. Tobias Harris, with 11, hit double digits for Philadelphia in the first, too.
Boston, at one point in the first, had an eight-point lead, but Philadelphia got out by as many as seven as the Celtics shot just 38.1% from the field.
Per usual, Brown kept things close with 10 points in the opening frame.
The 76ers led the Celtics 32-25 at the end of one.
KEMBA IS BACK
Theis has struggled this season making the adjustment to play the 4 position, but things were going well for him.
Between Walker and Theis’ effort in the second quarter, combining for 22 points in the frame, Boston managed to outscore Philadelphia 36-26 and take as much as a five-point lead.
Walker’s 17 points led the Celtics at halftime, and he had three assists and two rebounds in his 12 first-half minutes while going 5-for-6 from deep. Theis had 13 points and four rebounds in support.
But as Walker left the court for a stretch at the end of the half given his minutes restriction, both Brown and Robert Williams became sidelined after racking up three fouls apiece in the first.
Meanwhile, Embiid was rolling out to a game-high 22 points after the first two quarters, and Shake Milton was getting it done off the bench. Oh, and Boston was reminded that Dwight Howard plays for the 76ers now as he pulled down eight rebounds before halftime.
But a hustle play from Javonte Green where he forced a steal and turned on the jets in transition gave the Celtics a late burst.
Making up a lot of ground from the first quarter, Boston maintained a 61-58 lead entering the break.
SMART STEPPING UP
With Walker on the bench to start the second half and Brown in foul trouble, Smart stepped up to provide some offense.
And him going up against Embiid and making a drive like this was exactly the energy Boston needed:
But it was back and forth for the entirety of the third, as Embiid got out to 36 points by the end of the third.
But Brown had some fun while being guarded by Ben Simmons, and the 76ers point guard recorded his fifth personal foul toward the end of the frame.
A big quarter from Smart and Theis, who finished the frame with 19 and 17 points respectively, allowed the Celtics to have a 92-86 advantage as they made just 13 of 20 free throw attempts in a close game.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Smart reached the 20-point mark for the first time this season early in the fourth quarter, with the bulk of that coming in the second half.
But again, Embiid was putting in work.
And with two defenders on the center to try and contain him, that left Danny Green open for a wide-open 3-pointer that gave the 76ers a 108-105 lead.
Philadelphia was off from there, closing out the 117-109 win.
PLAY OF THE GAME
You’ve got to love this ambition from Smart.
Don’t go anywhere. Boston remains in Philadelphia and will face the 76ers again on Friday. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.