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Sixers were so close to deviating from same old, tired story against Celtics

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There wasn’t quite enough Christmas magic in the air in Boston for the Sixers. 

Despite coming back from an 11-point deficit in the second half and taking the lead late, the Sixers fell to the Celtics in overtime on Tuesday, 121-114.

A JJ Redick jumper from the right wing at the end of regulation rimmed out. The Sixers scored the first five points of overtime but couldn’t maintain their advantage, as Kyrie Irving knocked down consecutive three-pointers. 

Joel Embiid posted 34 points and 16 rebounds, while Irving had 40 points and 10 rebounds for Boston.

The Sixers are now 22-13, with four games still to go on their holiday road trip.

• Embiid carried the Sixers’ offense early, with nine of the team’s first 12 points.

He made his first three-point shot since Dec. 14 in the first quarter, from his favored spot at the the top of the key, and even added another long range jumper early in the third quarter.

It’s one thing to see Embiid dominate overmatched, young big men. It’s another thing to see him have to work for everything he gets against a savvy defender like Al Horford, and have plenty of success in the low post. Embiid made all 12 of his free throws.

• When Embiid sat, Butler became the focal point of the offense. As has been the case for most of his brief time with the Sixers, Butler started slowly. He made one of his first seven shots, missing a number of easy looks near the rim.

To Brett Brown’s credit, he didn’t stop trying to feed Butler, and the four-time All-Star made his next three shots. 

Butler finished with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists. 

The Sixers traded for Butler so they could beat teams like the Celtics. Butler’s willingness to fit into the Sixers’ system is great, but it doesn’t do the team much good. It must have been encouraging for the Sixers to see Butler shed his deferential mindset.

• When there’s one unfavorable defensive matchup, you can adjust by shading help defense in that direction or sending an occasional double-team. When just about every matchup favors the offense, scheme is largely futile. T.J. McConnell on Irving, Furkan Korkmaz on Jaylen Brown, Landry Shamet on Gordon Hayward — everywhere you looked, the Celtics had a mismatch. 

While the Sixers competed very well on the defensive end, you’d envision those type of mismatches being exposed over a seven-game playoff series. 

• In the past, we’ve called the Sixers’ bench “thin.” A more harsh description might be “not good enough for a team with championship aspirations.”

The bench had zero points on 0 for 7 shooting in 35 combined first-half minutes. 

However, the bench came alive after halftime.

Landry Shamet provided some positive minutes during the Sixers’ run in the third quarter, nailing a three-pointer from the left wing, sneaking free for a layup, and playing solid defense.

• Ben Simmons had a “quiet” near-triple-double, with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.

He made a rare jumper in the fourth quarter with the shot clock expiring.

• The Sixers had 19 turnovers, while the Celtics had just nine. The Sixers can live with turning it over a few times as a byproduct of playing fast, but you can’t afford to concede that wide a disparity in turnovers and expect to win many games.

• Redick had 17 points on 5 for 16 shooting. He missed two free throws, an unusual occurrence for a player who entered the game shooting 91.8 percent from the foul line.

• Wilson Chandler returned to the starting lineup after missing Saturday’s game vs. Toronto with a left quad contusion.

He looked sluggish to start but found his rhythm in the second half and made the Celtics pay on several occasions for double-teaming Embiid. 

After a couple seconds of thought, Chandler fired the go-ahead three-pointer from the right wing with 36 seconds remaining.

• According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Markelle Fultz is making progress with his rehab and expects to play again this season (see story). 

Fultz and rookie Zhaire Smith traveled with the Sixers to Boston. 

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