PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Scrambling for a loose ball late in the fourth quarter and the outcome of Game 3 still in the balance, Grant Williams was accidentally stomped face-first into the court by Joel Embiid’s wayward foot.
Williams got up shaken, bloodied and needed a breather. Much like Boston after its Game 1 debacle, Williams absorbed the beating and came back to help the Celtics continue to punish the suddenly shaky 76ers.
Jayson Tatum scored 27 points, Jaylen Brown had 23 and the Boston Celtics spoiled Embiid’s MVP coronation, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 114-102 Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia.
Williams didn’t score a point in 23 minutes, but his toughness in shaking off the sneaker to the back of his head symbolized the way Boston has continued to get up after a Game 1 embarrassment.
“I just thankful he just didn’t fully lean his weight into it,” Williams said. “He definitely got me pretty badly.”
Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds in his second game back from a sprained right knee after receiving his MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony.
Boston gave 76ers fans little reason to cheer again.
The Sixers pulled within five on De’Anthony Melton’s 3-pointer to get the crowd back into the game for all of 20 seconds before Malcolm Brogdon countered with a 3 to give Boston a 100-92 lead. Al Horford crushed the Sixers again — as he has most of his career — when he buried a 3 for a seven-point lead.
Embiid, forced to try and win it alone without any serious offensive helped, missed a pull-up 18-footer and Tatum drained a jumper that all but put the game away. Tatum hit one more 3 for good measure and the Celtics seized control of the series.
Embiid was flanked by his parents and teammates as he received the MVP trophy from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver before Game 3. Sixers fans roared as Embiid hoisted the trophy high over his head. Then the moment turned touching. Embiid’s young son, Arthur, ran onto the court and into the arms of his father.
Embiid held his son, who wore a “My dad is the MVP” T-shirt, and wiped tears from his eyes as fans chanted “MVP! MVP!”
“Honestly, he’s the main reason why I’m really here,” Embiid said. “Becoming a father really changed my whole life. I just wanted to show him a good example.”
The good times didn’t last long.
Boston spiked any emotional carryover from the ceremony and raced to a quick 10-point lead.
The Sixers spent the rest of the game playing catch-up. All the energy spent to come back and take brief leads quickly evaporated and the Celtics snagged them right back.
Embiid gamely tried to carry the Sixers on one good knee, but got almost no help from James Harden and Tyrese Maxey. Harden’s 45-point effort in a Game 1 upset in Boston seemed more an aberration than a sign of things to come. Harden followed his 2 of 14 in a Game 2 loss with 3-for-14 shooting for 16 points.
Harden’s 5-for-28 shooting the last two games is the worst for him over any two-game span in his career, regular season or playoffs, in which he’s attempted at least 20 field goals.
“We’re just trying to make him work as much as we can,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Trying to keep him off the free-throw line. Guys are just working to take away those details.”
Harden failed to pick up the Sixers in the third, when he could have changed the game.
He did hit P.J. Tucker for a 3 that pulled the Sixers to 74-72. Harden then missed two straight jumpers and fouled Brown on a tough layup. Brown made the free throw and the Celtics were back up by eight.
Harden oddly passed up plenty of easy looks and layups and also committed five turnovers.
Embiid had scored 53 points against the Celtics in an early-April matchup, but could never get cooking in Game 3. The Celtics double-teamed Embiid from the jump and he looked gassed by the end of the third. Without a teammate he could trust to make shots, Embiid took the scoring load on himself and scored 12 points in the third when he played the entire quarter.
Celtics: Mazzulla was caught muttering “I am the worst coach ever” at end of a day-off video call. He said before Game 3 it was because he forgot to recognize Marcus Smart in a team video session for winning the NBA Hustle Award.
76ers: Made 12 of 12 free throws in the first quarter.
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Dan Gelston, The Associated Press