By: Kenny Doyle
The Celtics beat the 76ers 108-97 Thursday night in no small part thanks to Kyrie Irving. Kyrie had his second best scoring output of the season dropping 36 and put on a perfect display of the below-the-rim dominance that has made him one of the best point guards in the NBA over the past half decade. On drive after drive, Kyrie pulled out one majestic move after another finding a different fancy way to finish every time he got to the rim.
It was no secret that Kyrie was one of the best (if not the best) finishers at the basket in the league in Cleveland and against Philly, Kyrie had his best game attacking the basket as a Celtic. Two particular instances were breathtaking. First, avoiding the block from the probable Rookie of the Year with a ridiculous mid-air adjustment on this reverse layup:
And then on this play, Kyrie nearly lost the ball on the drive and was still able to somehow flip the ball 15 feet up in the air and have it perfectly drop in the basket:
Early on in the season Kyrie seemed a bit more tentative and reluctant to attack and be aggressive scoring the ball, but as we get deeper and deeper into the season Kyrie continues to get more and more confident running the Celtics offense and seems to be having a much easier time picking his spots to try to score. Although Kyrie has been adamant all season long on playing team basketball and it not being about any one guy, but the Celtics are at their best when Kyrie is playing aggressively and trying to put the ball in the basket.
Although the Rookie of the Year race doesn't appear to be all that close, the two top candidates, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum, faced off against each other in this game. While Simmons put up the more impressive stat line with 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 5 steals, Tatum did match Simmons in the scoring column on 3 less shots.
It's tough for Tatum to keep pace with Simmons in the ROY race while being the 4th or sometimes even 5th option on the Celtics whereas the Sixers offense is run through Simmons at all times. That's discrepancy has led to Simmons running away with the award early on, but Tatum playing on a top tier team and getting less touches won't go overlooked by voters and as the season goes on Tatum will likely have people pushing his narrative and could make the ROY race more interesting than it currently seems like it will be.
There was some bad news for the Celtics though, as Jaylen Brown had just 2 points on 1-6 shooting and was benched for the 4th quarter. Brown never re-entered the game after being subbed out with 3:37 left in the 3rd, ending the game with a season-low 22 minutes. Brown has been wildly inconsistent all season and it really shows over his last 7 games.
After 3 straight games over 20 points, Brown has scored just 14, 13, 9, and now 2 in his last 4 games respectively and has killed any hopes that he had finally found some consistency to his game after his strong 3 game stretch. Brown is still having a great season, but is falling short of being the reliable second scoring option that it looked like he could have been after Gordon Hayward went down. Brown can still score at a high level on any given night, but the Celtics won't be able to count on Brown's offense going into games, at least not right now.
It would have been fun to see what the game would have looked like if Joel Embiid had been available to play, but it looks like the 76ers want to keep his minutes and back to back restrictions on for at least a few more weeks. The 76ers and Celtics have arguably the 2 best young cores in the NBA and it feels like these two teams will be the class of the Eastern Conference in just a few short years. A thrilling rivalry is being born between the Celtics and 76ers. It's only a matter of time before these two teams meet in the playoffs and who knows, with Philadelphia on track to sneak in as a low seed in Eastern Conference playoffs this year, it may even be sooner than we think.
Photo: (Bleacher Report)