Sixers' Joel Embiid says team paid for relaxing vs. Celtics after taking 15-point lead

Embiid says Sixers paid for relaxing after taking 15-point lead vs. Celtics originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Joel Embiid didn’t share in thousand of fans’ exultations Saturday night after he launched a game-tying heave attempt from 70 or so feet away and drained it.

He could tell he hadn’t quite released the ball in time and the Sixers had fallen to 0-3 this season against the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics.

“I wish I would’ve shot it sooner, but as I turned I saw Derrick White there, so I couldn’t really get it off,” Embiid said. “So I had to kind of go back to my right side to try to get it off.

“Unfortunately, story of my life.”

It’s easy to extract silver linings from the third-seeded Sixers’ incredibly tight loss at Wells Fargo Center, which ended a five-game winning streak and put the team at 39-20 overall.

Embiid was powerful and relentless in a 41-point performance, drawing 18 foul shots and hitting 17 of them. PJ Tucker pulled down 16 rebounds and generally looked like a player capable of making “winning plays” for the Sixers in the postseason. Tobias Harris started hot and scored an efficient 19 points. Both he and De’Anthony Melton did good work guarding Jayson Tatum before the Celtics star’s game-wining three-pointer.

Though Embiid recognized those positives, he was understandably displeased that the Sixers’ 15-point lead with under eight minutes left in the third quarter turned into a 10-point deficit with 7:11 remaining in the fourth.

“I think we’re right there,” Embiid said. “Being up 15, I thought we were not all ready to play basketball and we’ve just got to be better — all of us. I thought for the most part, before they made that run in the third quarter, we took away their threes. We relaxed a little bit and we’ve just got to be better.”

Just as Blake Griffin had in the Sixers’ Feb. 8 loss to Boston, Al Horford went 5 for 8 from three-point range.

There’s always some make-or-miss luck involved in any comeback, but the Sixers certainly helped the Celtics by conceding plenty of comfortable shots.

“When you’re playing against good teams, you can’t relax,” Embiid said. “It’s a 48-minute game. Like tonight, you’re up by 15 and then the next thing you know, they take the lead going into the fourth just because we didn’t have the same mentality that we had until that point. You’ve just got to stick to your concepts and be as forceful as possible.”

Harris called it a “heartbreaking game.”

“When we get those leads, we’ve got to sustain them,” he said. “That comes especially with not allowing that cushion to make us content. … We gave up too many easy looks there, especially those threes by Al. Those hurt us.”

The Sixers’ bench wasn’t their lone problem Saturday. Still, it seems clear which team would have won if second units were out of the picture. White posted 18 points off Boston’s bench, while Tyrese Maxey was the Sixers’ top second-unit scorer with eight points in his 25 minutes.

Maxey missed both of his three-point tries, dropping to 0 for 8 from long range over his last two contests, and drew no free throws.

Embiid detailed how he’s encouraging the 22-year-old to have a consistent approach.

“After the game, I was talking to him,” Embiid said. “I was like, ‘What can I do to help you?’ We were just having a conversation and trying to figure out which ways I can help. We had a good conversation.

“My main thing for him is to just be aggressive. Obviously, everybody watches film and everybody knows what he does best. I was just giving him an example about how I’m sure people watch film on me and they probably know what I want to get to, but … there’s so many ways you can set them up and still be able to get to whatever shot you want or whatever spot on the floor.

“So he’ll be fine. But I told him we’re not going anywhere unless he’s aggressive and he just plays freely. So that’s all I want from him. … Whether it’s coming off the bench or starting, just want him to be aggressive and play freely.”

The Sixers’ next opponent will indeed have studied Maxey’s game closely. The Sixers will face the team that knocked them out of last year's playoffs on Monday. They’ll play the Heat in Philadelphia and then head to Miami for another meeting Wednesday night.

Fifty-nine games into the season, Tucker is finally set to face his former team.

“Key game,” he said. “Guys are going to come out and play hard, play their style of basketball. But for us, it’s another challenge. We have them home and then away, so that’s going to be tough. So we just lock back in the next two days.”