By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Joel Embiid was a freight train on Wednesday night, one the Boston Celtics had very little chance of slowing down. Embiid dominated Boston on his way to a 42-point performance during Philadelphia’s 117-109 victory, which the Celtics can live with.READ MORE: Amid Concerns Over Omicron COVID Variant, CDC Says All Vaccinated Adults Should Get Booster Shots
What they can’t live with was how many times that freight train got to the free-throw line. Embiid got to the charity stripe 21 times and hit 17 of his freebies, while Boston as a team shot just 20 free throws.
After Boston’s defeat, Marcus Smart said that disparity at the free-throw line made it pretty difficult for the Celtics to come away with a victory. No stranger to engaging in a war of words with Embiid, Smart called out the Philly big man for really selling any form of contact throughout the game.
Insert that meme of Spider-Man pointing at the other Spider-Man. This is like a soap opera actor accusing another soap star of being too dramatic. But it’s what we’ve come to expect out of the Smart-Embiid feud.
“It’s tough,” said Smart, who scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half “It is tough. Especially when we’ve got our hands up a lot of the times and he flails and gets the call, and then down on the other end we’ve got our guys attacking the rim, getting a lot of contact, and we’re just not getting the whistle. It’s tough to play like that. It’s tough.”
Smart took seven free throws of his own, but wonders if he should sign up for some of Embiid’s acting lessons.
“If the roles were reversed, I’d do it every time. I mean, I’d be on too if every time I threw my arms up or every time I got touched, I’m going to the free throw line. I mean, it’s kind of hard not to get into a rhythm that way when you shoot 21 free throws alone and they allow you to hack on the other end,” said Smart. “It’s tough, but we battled. The team did a good job. We were right there to give ourselves a win and try to run it back again on Friday.”
The Celtics did battle, leading for a large stretch in the second half despite not having Jayson Tatum in the lineup. But that lead evaporated down the stretch as Embiid got anything he wanted. He scored 20 of his 42 points in the second half, Four of his six points in the fourth quarter came at the free-throw line.
The Celtics, meanwhile, did not attempt a single free throw over the final 12 minutes.READ MORE: Jake DeBrusk Requests Trade From Bruins
Of course, word of Smart’s accusation got back to Embiid, who once again found criticism from Boston’s famous flopper to be rather laughable.
“Marcus Smart just told me that I flail a lot? Come on. I’m sure he knows himself, and he knows his game, too,” the Philly big man fired back. “He does a lot of that. And I don’t think I do. I mean, if you watch basketball and if you’re a student of the game and if you actually pay attention during the game, we all see. Every single foul, I get fouled. They probably don’t call all of them, like the last one. There was three minutes left, I went up, and that was a foul and they knew it, but they didn’t call it. So there’s a lot that they don’t call, and there’s a lot that they call because you have to.”
It really didn’t matter what the Celtics threw at Embiid on Wednesday. He was going to get his no matter what, whether he was bodying Tristan Thompson of Daniel Theis underneath, or earning/acting his trips to the free-throw line.
“The game is physical. Other teams tend to try to be extra physical against me. And I guess I’m just smarter than everybody else,” proclaimed Embiid. “I just take advantage of it. I just take advantage of how they’re guarding me. You can call that, I don’t know, basketball IQ, like if you’re going to put your hand up there, I’m gonna take advantage of it and I’m gonna get to the free throw line, because I know that I’m a great free throw shooter and that’s a better chance for me to help the team win in those situations.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a little more restrained, saying that the Celtics should have kept Embiid from getting so many free throws. While he wants his team to be aggressive against Embiid, it’s something they may reconsider ahead of Friday night’s rematch in Philadelphia.
“You have to go back to how can we be better. He not only scored those points, he also handled the double pretty well on a couple of occasions that led to three points,” said Stevens. “He had a huge impact on the game tonight, and he was terrific.”
Embiid living at the line is nothing new in his clashes with Boston. He attempted a dozen or more freebies in all four games of Boston’s first-round sweep of Philadelphia during bubble action, and back in 2019, he scored 20 of his 37 points at the line in a 118-115 win by the 76ers. For his career against the Celtics, he attempts just a tick under 10 free-throws a game.
It’s the product of the Celtics getting physical with him, and he doesn’t mind giving it right back. Much like Smart, he does tend to sell (and oversell) some contact, but he earns the majority of his free throws.MORE NEWS: Attleboro Man Wins $1 Million On Scratch Ticket Gifted To Him After Having Heart Surgery
It’s frustrating for the Celtics, and Smart’s postgame complaints are basically the guard lobbying with officials to swallow their whistles a bit more on Friday night. And while Smart calling out anyone for being a little overzealous at selling fouls is somewhat comical, it’s another entertaining layer of the Celtics-76ers rivalry.