Alford: Joel Embiid is right, Sixers-Celtics is not a rivalry

Joel Embiid NBA Philadelphia 76ers

For the second time this season, the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Boston Celtics, furthering the notion that this rivalry is dormant. Despite getting another MVP caliber performance from third-year big man Joel Embiid (34 points and 16 rebounds), the Sixers did not have an answer for Celtics star point guard Kyrie Irving, who danced all over them for 40 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime classic on Christmas night.

Unlike the 1980s, where this rivalry was a bit more competitive between the Sixers and Celtics, this era’s rivalry is currently one-sided. Going back to last season, Philly has only won two games against Boston, which includes last year’s playoff series.

In fact, the last time Philly beat Boston in the regular season, you have to go back to Jan. 18, 2018. In that game, the Sixers won 89-80, thanks to a dominating performance from Embiid, who recorded a double-double consisting of 26 points and 16 rebounds.

The Celtics, however, were without Irving and Gordon Hayward, who were both dealing with injuries at the same time.

Overall, the Sixers have an ugly record of 3-12 against the C’s since Embiid made his pro debut in 2016. After Tuesday night’s disheartening loss, the third-year center reiterated once again that this is not a rivalry.

“We lost again. Like I said at the beginning of the season, I don’t know what a rivalry is. I think I do, but this is clear as day, this is no rivalry,” said Embiid (h/t Sporting News). “Just got to come back, we play them at home, so we’ve got to get the win over there.”

We see this happen all the time in sports, where one team dominates another team over a period of time. And for no rhyme or reason, that the team cannot get over the hurdle to defeat them.

This is where the Sixers are at. Right now, the Celtics have purchased a spot in Philly’s mind and know that they can beat them at any given time.

Second-year point guard Ben Simmons mentioned over the summer that one of the Sixers’ goals for this season was beating Boston. Thus far, they have come up short, granted both games were on the road.

What can the Sixers do to make this a competitive rivalry once again?

It is tough to say because we saw Brett Brown get outcoached by Brad Stevens in last year’s playoff series. Thankfully, that was not the case on Tuesday night, but still, there were moments where Brown let his players just freestyle on the court.

And then there’s the lack of a bench issue, which has been a thorn in the Sixers’ side all season. When you are going against good basketball teams such as the Celtics or Toronto Raptors, you need to have a competent bench.

In Tuesday night’s game, the Sixers’ bench was outscored 25-13 and did not score a single point in the first half. There is only so much heavy lifting that your starters can do before they run out of gas which was apparent in overtime.

If the Sixers want to surpass the Celtics in their quest towards a potential NBA Finals run, it starts with executing the little things on the court and hopefully, that will manifest into a victory.

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