BOSTON – The Sixers have work to do.
The team that beat the Heat in five games and won 20 of its last 21 didn’t look like the same squad on the parquet Monday at TD Garden.
“I never felt we were in the game,” Brett Brown said. “I never really felt it was a game.”
What it was turned out to be a 117-101 loss to the Celtics in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals (see observations). The Sixers allowed a combined 83 points to Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford while struggling to find their own shots. They went cold from three, 5 for 26, and only got a total of 17 points from their bench that had been an integral part of their success.
“That’s not us,” Robert Covington said. “They got a lot of easy buckets, a lot of easy threes, transitions. That’s not us. So we are going to get back to ourselves and this next game isn’t going to be that easy for them.”
The Sixers’ defense took a dive in Game 1. After holding the Heat to 28.6 percent three-point shooting in the series clincher, the Sixers gave up 47.2 percent to the Celtics. Rozier accounted for seven of their 17 treys. The Celtics also hit 59.1 percent of their field goals in the second quarter, which sparked a 13-point lead just before halftime.
“It starts on defense,” Joel Embiid said. “I thought I was sh—y. I thought we were all bad tonight. That’s not who we are, definitely. I think when everybody is on, we’re the best defensive team in the game.”
The Celtics, not the Sixers, set the tone early in the game. The Sixers trailed by eight during the first quarter and shot 22.2 percent from three in the first 12 minutes, a sign of their troubles to follow. Their long-range performance dropped to 1 for 6 in the second quarter. The Celtics focused on limiting the Sixers in transition and playing their tempo from the start.
“(Ben) Simmons has got those guys playing very well when they push the pace and get out and run and look for the three,” Rozier said. “We tried to take that away, just being active. Not letting (Marco) Belinelli get looks, not letting JJ Redick get clean looks. Just causing problems.”
The Sixers had trouble getting into a stride after six days between series. The Celtics, conversely, looked energized with less than 48 hours since their last game. Simmons said that long of a break wasn’t “the best” for the Sixers. Now they will have two days to regroup before a key Game 2 Thursday night in Boston.
“Sometimes when you finish the first series early, you have four, five days between series,” Ersan Ilyasova said. “You kind of get out of shape a little bit. But it can’t be an excuse for us. Obviously we have to get back into it because this series can go quick. For us to be able to win the series, we have to win one at their place.
“The second game is going to be huge for us to turn this whole thing around.”