LONDON (AP) – Ten seasons ago, the Boston Celtics came to London and won. They went on to win the NBA title.
As they repeated the first half of that feat with a comeback victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night, the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics provided more evidence that they can emulate that 2007-08 squad.
Kyrie Irving had 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds and Boston overcame a 22-point deficit to beat the 76ers 114-103 in the eighth regular season NBA game played in England.
“It’s always great to believe in fate,” Irving said. “But for us we have to be dogged in every moment we’re afforded. It’s great for that to happen for that past team but it’s the past. We have to be very present. Winning an NBA championship is one of the hardest things you can do in life.”
Jaylen Brown added 21 points, and Marcus Morris had 19 points and eight rebounds to help the Celtics extend their winning streak to seven games.
JJ Redick had 22 points and hit five 3-pointers for Philadelphia, but the 76ers were unable to take advantage of their fast start as the Celtics’ NBA-best defense tightened at O2 Arena.
Joel Embiid had 16 points, and fellow All-Star hopeful Ben Simmons added 15 for the 76ers.
“This team that we just played today is the best defensive team in the NBA and we felt all of that,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “When you look at their individual defensive players to a man, they’re as strong positionally as any team in the NBA.”
Irving and Embiid struggled early, going a combined 1 for 10 from the field in the first quarter. Despite ending the quarter pointless, Embiid was able to make an impact on defense, notably swatting away Irving’s attempted layup.
Embiid and Simmons helped out Redick at the start of the second and the 76ers made their first nine shots of the quarter to open the 22-point lead with 6:56 remaining in the quarter.
However, Irving finally made a 3, sparking a strong Celtics finish to the half as they closed to 57-48.
Having been outshone by fellow Rookie Of The Year contender Simmons in the first half, Jayson Tatum began the second half hot, making his first five shots to bring the Celtics within a point.
The Celtics took their first lead midway through the third quarter, and soon took control as Morris and fellow reserve Marcus Smart stretched the lead.
Irving returned early in the fourth and was fouled making a trademark driving layup and made the free throw to give the Celtics a 105-88 advantage midway through the quarter, all but ending the contest.
With the Celtics top of the Eastern Conference with a 34-10 record and the 76ers (19-20) ninth and fighting to make the post-season a first round playoff meeting between the two is a possibility.
Despite having lost all three games to the Celtics this season, Embiid is confident the 76ers could compete in a seven-game series.
“If we end up meeting in the playoffs, I feel like we got a pretty good chance,” Embiid said. “We just need to correct whatever has been careless the whole season and that’s turnovers and fouling a lot.”
Celtics: The Celtics held Philadelphia without a field goal for the final 4:37 of the second quarter to trim the halftime deficit to nine points
76ers: Embiid was the only player on either team to finish with a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to his 15 points.
Celtics: Host New Orleans on Tuesday night.
76ers: Host Toronto on Monday night.
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