By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics can’t beat the 76ers this season, even when Philadelphia doesn’t have their best player. That is inexcusable.

Boston dropped their third straight game on Thursday night, falling 109-98 in Philadelphia. Not having Embiid wasn’t really an issue for the Sixers, as Josh Richardson exploded for 29 points, Al Horford had his best game with his new team with a 17-8-6 statline, and Ben Simmons added 19 points and nine rebounds. The Celtics, meanwhile, struggled for any cohesive offense, especially in the second half, relying mostly on one-on-one hero ball as Philadelphia took control of the game.

Jaylen Brown went just 2-for-12 from the floor. Jayson Tatum wasn’t much better at 4-for-13. Gordon Hayward finished the night with just eight points on 4-for-11 shooting. An angry Kemba Walker, fresh off his first career ejection, was the only Celtic to do much of anything Thursday night, pouring in 26 points while hitting 10 of his 20 shots.

Sure, you can point to the fact that Boston was on the second night of a back-to-back, while Philadelphia had been off since Monday night. The game was in Philadelphia, where the 76ers are now 18-2 on the season. But in reality, there is no excuse for a double-digit loss to an Embiid-less 76ers team.

Boston was outscored by 18 points in the second half, and 32-18 in the fourth quarter. They had very little fight over the final 24 minutes of the game. Their social media team was the only one throwing any punches on Thursday night.

Still, the Celtics were surprisingly upbeat after Thursday night’s defeat. Apparently, the line of thinking was losing to a playoff contender on the road was much better than losing to the 12-25 Wizards on Monday or the 16-20 Spurs on Wednesday.

“If we play like we did tonight, clean some things up and play with a little more pop, then I like what we’re becoming,” head coach Brad Stevens said Thursday night.

That’s to be expected out of Brad, who is usually upbeat and chipper anyways. He’ll call his team out when he has to, as he did earlier this week, but overall, he isn’t going to lose his mind over a single loss — at least not in front of reporters.

The Celtics are a better team than what they showed on Thursday night, but they probably could have used a little verbal kick in the behind after such a lackluster effort in the second half. With the way the Eastern Conference is shaping up, with five teams jostling for the No. 2 seed behind the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston can’t afford these kinds of slumps.

Their previous two losses were supposed to be wake-up calls for the Celtics, proof that they can’t just show up and win games. That alarm is getting a little bit louder after Thursday night’s defeat.


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