The Sixers (33-24) visited the Boston Celtics (45-12) on Tuesday. Philadelphia wanted to rebound from Sunday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston wanted to push its winning streak to nine games. The Sixers hung tough, but fell victim to two extended Boston runs in a 117-99 loss.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Sixers remained without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a procedure on the meniscus in his left knee.

Robert Covington remained out with a bone bruise in his left knee.

KJ Martin missed the game with a right ankle impingement. Terq Smith and Kenny Lofton Jr. are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.

Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, Buddy Hield, Kelly Oubre Jr., Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.

The Celtics were without the services of JD Davison and Drew Peterson, who are on two-way assignments with Boston's G League affiliate.

Joe Mazzulla started Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kristaps Porzingis.


- Maxey was at the forefront of Philadelphia's competitive edge in this game. He was the only Sixer who you felt had total control when the ball was in his hands in the first half. Maxey's progress against Boston, specifically, is a microcosm of the growth he's shown this season. In the past, the Celtics were able to completely neutralize the undersized shooting guard. But, Maxey has found some answers with the ball in his hands more than ever before.

He combined side-to-side movement with downhill pressure early in this one, important for an offense that has struggled to consistently put pressure on the rim in recent weeks. Those two characterizations, together, are how you find your way to the basket when straight line drives aren't there.

Maxey didn't pick up his dribble; he just kept pushing against the resistance until his younger legs found the edge. And then he shifted speeds to dust the defender tasked with staying in front of him. He laced an early triple, but did most of his damage in the first quarter at the rim.

It really is amazing how much establishing a rhythm early can set a player up for the rest of the game. The efficiency from beyond the arc has been shaky for Maxey's standard this season. He's been a bit warmer lately, but you could tell he was really feeling it from the perimeter in the third quarter. Maxey carried the offense back from the dead after a brutal start to the third quarter, beating Boston's miscommunications and drop coverages with deep threes out of the pick-and-roll.

He didn't view his job as just handling business on offense. It was perhaps the most inspired defensive game of Maxey's career. He pressured Brown into turnovers and leveraged his size disadvantage to draw an offensive foul on the Celtics star.

I'm largely past the point of learning much about this team in the regular season, but it's a promising development that Maxey has risen to the challenge of playing the Celtics.

- While Nurse is trying everything he and his staff can think of with Embiid out, the small-ball lineup with Nico Batum acting as the big is a concept I think the Sixers need to lean into as much as the veteran forward will do it. A common argument against it will be the defensive issues and rebounding weakness that is baked into going that small. But, moments in this game gave a taste of why it can work defensively.

First of all, you're likely going to get an officiating advantage away from the rim. There's an aesthetic of smaller players guarding up that allows for more physicality. It also makes bigger players less likely to push limits because of the risk of offensive fouls.

That freedom to be a bit more physical creates the second point. Post entry passes are likely to be to the outside hand because that one is typically an easier target to hit because defenders are trying to deny entry on the near side. But, because the ball then has to travel farther to reach the target, there's time to recover and tip it away.

That's all a long way of saying that there are ways to counter the size disadvantage of going small on the defensive end.

As for the offensive side of the ball, the film does all the talking. The team is way more connected and functional when Batum is acting as the five. Not only does he space the floor as a pick-and-pop big, but there's a lot more cutting and off-ball movement because teammates trust that he'll find them.

The Sixers are not built to have answers on defense without Embiid. They're proving incapable of finding answers on offense without him. But, that latter end of the floor is their only shot at weathering the storm until the big guy returns. It doesn't matter who the starting big is; it's very important that Batum is the man in the middle as often as possible throughout the game, though.

- I never have any clue what Ricky Council IV is going to do, I just know it's going to look athletic. When you're as athletic as Council is, you're going to run into great plays. His skills are very raw, his movements are awkward. But, he's strong and can jump out of the building. Nothing he did on defense was particularly notable in this one, but he put his head down and got to the rim for wild finishes through contact on a number of possessions in the second half. If it feels like only good things happened when Council was on the court in this game, that's because it's true. Plus-7 in 19 minutes.

- The Celtics did eventually turn this game into a blowout, but the Sixers had the deficit chopped to just two points in the middle of the fourth quarter thanks largely to Cam Payne. Funky shooting mechanic? No problem. He squared Al Horford up at the top of the key twice in the fourth quarter, jabbed, looked him in the eye, and laced a pair of big threes. He and Council were a huge part of what was a great game for the bench.


- Oubre taking a side-fading floater as he drove across the lane in the first quarter was maybe the worst shot I've ever seen and is certainly a microcosm of how he sees the game. It's Kelly Oubre Jr. time, for better or for worse.

- It's hard to put into words, really. This might be rock bottom for Harris' career with the Sixers. He shot 5-for-19 in this game, and received no respect from the Celtics as he lined up seven open triples and made them pay only twice. The finishing at the rim is suspect, compounding the lost touch in the midrange and making the complete lack of confidence from beyond the arc all the more crippling. Except, it's in addition to all of his usual shortcomings; he's making terrible passes, disrupting the rhythm of possessions by forcing bully ball and post-ups, and making defensive mistake after defensive mistake.

It's almost always unfair to point at one guy in a loss. But, the Sixers were down just two at halftime. Then, Harris had a string of misses to start the third quarter that immediately fed Boston run-outs to push the deficit to double digits.

- You won't find anything but praise for the Hield acquisition here. But, man, his shooting has been brutal over these last few games. Need a lot more from him.

The Sixers (33-25) will host the Charlotte Hornets (15-43) on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus.

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