Joe Mazzulla gives surprise label to Celtics win over 76ers

BOSTON — The Celtics were heavy favorites against the undermanned 76ers on Tuesday night. Without Joel Embiid in the lineup over the past months, Philadelphia has lost seven of their last 11 games, free falling down the East standings. Still, the visitors managed to give Boston a stiff challenge for the better part of three quarters on Tuesday night until the hosts used a 16-0 fourth quarter run to pull away for a 118-102 victory.

It was the ninth straight victory for Boston, keeping them eight games ahead of the Cavs in the East standings. Yet, the Celtics found a way to win without using one of their biggest strengths, taking and making a season-low in 3-point attempts (5-of-22). Instead, Boston managed to use a massive edge via points in the paint (64-42) and free throws (34-11) to counteract the lack of 3-point shooting and that excited Joe Mazzulla postgame.

“I thought in the second half, we did a great job of just getting to our spots, playing with physicality on our drives,” Mazzulla said. “We controlled the shot margin with our one-shot defense and our ability to get to the free-throw line. So this game was probably one of our best games of the year, and really gives us – from the standpoint of we were able to win a different way, and this game showed a template of how teams are going to guard us, and it gives us another thing to practice. It thought our guys did a great job.”






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Sixers coach Nick Nurse clearly made a concerted effort to prevent Boston’s 3-point frequency but the Celtics added well to that strategy in Mazzulla’s eyes.

“They switched and tried to take away threes and forced us to play dribble drive,” Mazzulla said. “So as long as you take care of the ball and you play physical and you don’t turn it over and you get to the free-throw line, we were really, really efficient in the paint, and then once we were able to take away their multiple shot possessions, and then get to certain guys that we wanted to shoot and make sure we contest it, then it kind of evened itself out. So that game can be a misleading game of is it math or is it effort, and sometimes it’s both, and sometimes it’s just you have to keep the effort up until the math plays itself out, and I thought our guys did a good job of that.”

With Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis all piling up double-digit attempts from the free throw line, there was a clear understanding from the trio where Philadelphia’s pressure points were without their top rim protector.

“I think we played our game,” Porzingis said. “Like for example, I’m talking from my perspective, I saw that they’re like… I’m popping and they’re early veering so right away the guard is coming with me so we don’t get no advantage and I’m standing on the perimeter. So what I did, as the game went on, I start to hit under, like set the screen underneath and start to roll. And JT and D-White, they found me a couple times or we got a mismatch and then we kicked from there or sometimes I roll and bring in some guys and then we get some kick-outs because some help is coming in. So just creating small advantages within those situations, and that was it. We just have to be a smart team where boom, we go to this. If they start doing this, we go to this and we always need to have the answers.”

Porzingis and the Celtics will go for their 10th straight win against the Mavericks on Friday night at TD Garden.

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