LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Kemba Walker has been in the NBA nine seasons and been selected to three All-Star games — yet he’s never won a playoff series.
That might be about to change.
Walker scored 24 points and the Boston Celtics closed with a 10-0 run to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 102-94 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.
“This is why I came here (to Boston) and this is a special moment for myself,” said Walker, who joined the Celtics after eight playoff-free seasons in Charlotte. “I’ve never been up 3-0. But the job is not done. You have to give it everything you got because those guys over there are not quitting.”
“He’s a fighter, he’s a competitor, and he’s talked all year about wanting to win,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
Jaylen Brown had 21 points and Jason Tatum added 15 for the Celtics.
Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds to lead the 76ers. They shot 29.5% from the field.
“I don’t want to be swept,” Embiid said. “I don’t want that in my resume. I’ll be playing my butt off. I’m going to come in and do everything that I can to make sure we win a game.”
No NBA team has ever rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
“I’m not rolling over,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “I understand. I get it. Everybody would assume that this series is over because we’re (down) 3-0. I’m not trying to be Knute Rockne (but) my sincere opinion is we’re going to come in and play the game and get a win.”
Boston led 51-49 at the half, with Embiid carrying Philadelphia with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The Celtics were able to stay close despite Tatum picking up his third foul near the end of the first quarter and having to sit the entire second quarter. Tatum entered the game averaging 32.5 points on 10-of-17 shooting from 3-point range in the series.
Midway through the third, Walker completed a personal 8-0 run with a fast-break layup and foul on Embiid — his fourth. But Philadelphia didn’t fold with its All-Star center on the bench, instead battling back to tie it.
But the Celtics pulled away late.
With his team leading 94-92, Embbid turned the ball over on a cross-court pass and Brown scored on the other end and drew a foul for a 3-point play to put the Celtics ahead for good with 1:37 left. On the ensuing possession Tatum blocked Embiid from behind and the 76ers were called for a clear path foul on the other end, giving the Celtics two foul shots and the ball. Tatum made 1 of 2, and Walker followed with a killer step-back jumper over the top of Al Horford en route to a 10-0 run.
“Those defensive plays were big, but we could have made more plays on the defensive plays,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “Tonight wasn’t our best night defensively but we came out with the victory.”
The Celtics entered the game having outscored the 76ers 87-42 from beyond the 3-point arc, but were just 8 of 31 on Friday night. Yet that was better than the 76ers, who were 9 of 39.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” Embiid said. “Nothing could go in. I thought defensively, we did a better job. We had some mistakes in the fourth that we can correct. We have to lock in. Defensively, we were good. Offensively, no one could make a shot.”
Celtics: Daniel Theis picked up his sixth foul with 3:01 left with the Celtics up 92-90.
76ers: Al Horford, who started Game 1, got the start against the Celtics. … 76ers were 29-2 playing at home in Philadelphia this season, but didn’t have the luxury of a home-court advantage Friday night playing in the bubble. … Lost despite outrebounding the Celtics 57-45.
Brown was asked about his future if the 76ers are bounced in the first round, and he responded by saying he doesn’t know.
“I don’t. I really don’t. I understand the circumstance,” Brown said. “My job is to focus on what I really can do. My players deserve that. I’ve been in this city seven years and tonight’s loss is what’s most on my mind. My effort truly is to try to find a way to win and keep the series alive and do my job for my players.”
Game 4 is Sunday.
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