Celtics' fourth quarter comeback falls short again, lose 89-80 to Sixers

As Kyrie Irving said on Tuesday night after the Boston Celtics' overtime loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, "we can't comeback every game." Tonight's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers would make two straight games that the Cs were unable to catchup after trailing early. They lost 89-80 to the Sixers, making it the first time all season that they've lost two in a row at the Garden. 

Speaking of Kyrie, he missed the game because of a sore shoulder. He was very reassuring in his pre-game interview, however, showing confidence that he'd be back soon, and that his absence was strictly precautionary.

Kyrie, who was recently voted to start the All-Star game, was sorely missed. The team struggled to get anything going without him, which may actually help his MVP odds.

The Celtics had a lovely tribute for the late Jo Jo White. His seat, the seat that he sat in for most Celtic home games, was covered with his jersey and protected all game by a private security guard. The team also celebrated his life with a moment of silence, and a touching video in his honor.

And Danny Ainge's favorite project-child, James Young returned to the Garden.

Things looked pretty for the Celtics to start the game. They went on a 6-0 run to begin the first quarter, with impressive baskets coming from Al Horford and Jayson Tatum. First, Horford hit a midrange jumper. Then, the rookie showed off his most recently released skill: his handles. He's been crossing people up and hitting the shot in their faces since the New Year began. This time, he made a move, and took it to the rack. On the next possession, Big Money Al took Joel Embiid to the elbow, pump faked, put a shoulder into the young big's chest, and faded away for the pretty bucket. 
Later in the quarter, Tatum's rookie-rival, Ben Simmons, did this. Rookie of the Year my ass! 
Trevor Booker, who was acquired by the Sixers in the Jahlil Okafor trade, showed his strength under the basket in the first with some big-time contested layups. He finished the first with six points on 3-of-3 shooting

For the Celtics, Al Horford led the the way with an identical stat-line to Booker: 3-for-3 for six points. Marcus Morris also played well in the quarter, and clearly had the green light from Brad Stevens. He was aggressive on offense, and more than once kept the ball for himself in scoring efforts. He ended the quarter with 5 points and 2 rebounds

Joel Embiid, who was voted by the fans as an All-Star Game starter, finished the quarter with 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. 

Celtics trailed by two, 21-19 at the end of the first. 
The Celtics kept their season-long second-quarter trend going tonight, and played some of the ugliest ball that they've played all year. They turned the ball over fifteen times in the half, eleven of them coming in the second quarter. The only Celtic without a turnover was Semi Ojeleye, who saw three minutes of action. 

Things clearly started badly for the Celtics, because on their first possession of the quarter, just fifteen seconds into the game, Brad Stevens stormed onto the court and called a loud timeout. It was a rare glimpse of Brad losing his composure. Always a treat for the fans. 

After the timeout, the Celtics immediately turned the ball over. 

One of few highlights from the quarter came from the teenager, who got up on the glass for the nifty block

Brad Stevens was seen pacing up and down the bench all quarter, making changes to the lineup left and right. Midway through the quarter, there was an Abdel Nader sighting. He touched the ball, made a bad pass that ended up being a turnover, and was taken out shortly after. Nothing was working for the Celtics in the quarter. 

The squad only stayed involved because of some classic, streaky Marcus Smart play. He got hot, hit a few baskets, including this deep three pointer, and then soon afterward, airmailed a heat-check three. 
The Cs went into the half down 39-32. Al Horford finished the first twenty-four minutes with 8 points on 50% shooting. Jaylen Brown went scoreless on 0-4 shooting, but grabbed three boards and dished two dimes. Jayson Tatum went 1-for-5 with 2 points and 4 rebounds. Marcus Morris may have been the most impressive Celtic, ending the half with 7 points and 5 boards. Joel Embiid would head into the second half with 8 points and 8 rebounds. 
Things only got worse in the third quarter. The Celtics shot 39 percent as a team, and left the quarter down 18 points. The best thing that can be said for the Cs on the quarter is that they finally made it to the free throw line! With 3:39 left to go in the third, Marcus Morris drove to the rack, got bumped, and hit both shots from the line. It was the first time that a Celtic had gone to the line all game

Midway through the quarter, Jayson Tatum came up with a nice steal. The entire Garden let out a gasp of hopefulness: could this be the play that changes the flow of the game!? Nope. Tatum rushed to the hole, and was viciously blocked by Amir Johnson.
Celtics went into the final frame down 71-53. Mook Morris lead the Celtics in points and rebounds with 12 and 5. Joel Embiid had 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists when the third quarter buzzer blew. 

All looked hopeless for the Celtics, and in the end it was, but they made things interesting in the fourth quarter by cutting the lead down to seven points with around two minutes left to play. Jaylen Brown got things going with this motivating three-pointer, and then Brad pushed the full-court press, which caused some dysfunction among Philly.

Then, Jayson Tatum followed suit and banged a long-range jumper, which was followed by some heroic Shane Larkin defense, and the strategic charge. In all the excitement, Tommy Heinsohn slipped up and called Shane, 'the little guy,' which was always Isaiah Thomas' loving nickname. Things have certainly changed in Beantown. 

After that, the team missed multiple open opportunities, and that was that. The Celtics took the L, 89-80. You know things went poorly when Marcus Smart is the team's most efficient shooter. He finished with 54.5% from the field.

Numbers to notice:

Jayson Tatum: 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Al Horford: 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks
Jaylen Brown: 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting, 3 rebounds, 4 assists
Marcus Smart: 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 5 rebounds
Marcus Morris: 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 6 rebounds
Shane Larkin: 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting, 3 rebounds

Dario Saric: 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals
Joel Embiid: 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals
Ben Simmons: 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists
TJ McConnell: 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 2-for2 from deep 

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Photo: TNT