3 takeaways from the Celtics’ thrilling overtime victory on Christmas Day

Kyrie Irving notched the first 40-point, 10-rebound game of his career.

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving reacts after making a 3-pointer in overtime. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer


It’s hard to disagree with JJ Redick’s assessment of the Christmas Day clash that took place between the Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday evening.

“I thought it was a good NBA game,” Redick said after Boston’s 121-114 overtime victory in front of a sellout TD Garden crowd of 18,624. 

Never trailing by more than 11, the 76ers appeared to strike at the right time by using a 38-point third quarter to take the lead heading into the fourth. Their advantage extended to as many as seven with just over eight minutes remaining, and, despite six lead changes in the final five minutes, a Sixers win seemed to be the likely outcome.


But Jayson Tatum’s critical rejection of a putback by Wilson Chandler, along with a lucky bounce on Kyrie Irving’s game-tying fadeaway, kept the Celtics alive and helped force an overtime period. Boston proceeded to outscore the 76ers, 13-1, in the final minute and 49 seconds of OT, shattering Philadelphia’s hopes of leveling the regular-season series.

“We lost to a team when it mattered most, the last two minutes of overtime,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Here’s what we learned from the Celtics’ win:

Kyrie Irving is on another level.

Irving’s 40 points — particularly his back-to-back daggers behind the arc in overtime — garnered praise throughout Philly’s locker room, as his opponents weren’t shy in tipping their caps at the All-Star’s outstanding performance.

“He’s done that his entire career — take and make tough shots,” said forward Jimmy Butler, who defended Irving on the majority of possessions. “That’s why he’s the type of player that he is in the league, man. That’s why I respect his game so much.”

“Kyrie had a great game tonight,” added point guard Ben Simmons. “He’s pretty much the guy who got it done for them.”

For the second straight game, Irving found his groove early and reached 15-plus points in the opening quarter. His scoring was certainly necessary for the Celtics, but his 10 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass, perhaps stood out more. Irving’s average rebounds per game this season, 5.1, is the highest of his career. The 26-year-old became the first Celtic to have a 40-point, 10-rebound game since retired forward Paul Pierce in December 2005.


Irving said he warned his teammates before the game that he was going to be “acting up” because 20-plus members of his family were in the stands. He lived up to the advisory, hustling on both ends of the floor and finishing a plus-19.

“It means a lot,” Irving said. “They haven’t really seen me play since I was a kid, you know, everybody here — my aunts, my uncles, my friends. It just meant a lot to me.”

As for what his teammates thought of the outing?

“I remember Kyle Korver, when we got Kyrie at first, one of the things he told me was [Kyrie] makes shots in big moments,” Al Horford said. “It’s just great to see Ky taking those big shots, making the right play, [and] just having the ball in his hands.”

The return of Al Horford is key for the Celtics.   

The Celtics are 2-0 since their team meeting. They’re also 2-0 since Horford returned to the floor. Which has had a bigger impact? The latter seems like a pretty safe bet.  

“He brings a calming presence,” Irving said. “It’s nothing like having a plus-12 [years of experience] vet out there that knows how to play basketball. He makes the game a lot easier — screening, rebounding, defense, all the intangibles that just demand that effort. He’s always locked in. Al might not say a lot but he knows a lot.”


Horford compiled a solid stat line in spite of his 2-for-10 shooting — posting 4 points, 5 assists, and 9 rebounds — although his biggest contributions did not pop up in the box score. The defensive stalwart was able to mitigate the impact of 76ers center Joel Embiid, who has posted a double-double in all but four games this season. Embiid recorded 34 points on 10-for-17 shooting and also grabbed 16 rebounds Tuesday. 

“This is a hard matchup for us not to have Baynes,” Stevens said. “Al played really, really well.”

According to the NBA’s tracking data, Horford defended Embiid on 56 possessions and allowed 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Center Daniel Theis was less effective, allowing the same number of points on 41 fewer possessions. Embiid’s presence was rather muted in the fourth quarter when he made just one bucket and turned the ball over five times.

“I felt like I could have done more,” he said. “We lost. I put this heavily on me because I knew I could have done more.”

Horford, who has been dealing with patellofemoral pain syndrome, was initially held to minutes restriction of 25, but Stevens was given the green light to utilize him for the full overtime period after consulting with the training staff.

“There was no question I was going to play,” Horford said. “The game was so emotional. We were right there. It just feels good to be able to finish out the game with no issues.”

Rivalry or not, there’s a lot of love between these two teams. 

Embiid remained firm in his belief that the series is still not a rivalry.


“We lost,” he said. “This is clear as day, this is no rivalry.”

Although the outcome was not in Philly’s favor, the revamped 76ers offered a challenging test for the Celtics — one that has increased in difficulty.

“Those guys have gotten better,” Horford said. “It’s definitely tougher. No question.”

The addition of Butler has bolstered Philly’s units on both ends of the floor, as the four-time All-Star tallied 13 third-quarter points to help give the Sixers the lead and then played tremendous one-on-one defense on the last possession against Irving.

Marcus Morris put things bluntly: “No disrespect to [Dario] Saric and those guys, but I just think last year they couldn’t defend us at all.”

Brown, who noted before tip-off that much of the offseason was dictated by their failed playoff series against Boston, said there was a lot to like from his team Tuesday. The next time the two teams face off will be Feb. 12 in Philadelphia. 

“I leave feeling like we’re not that far off,” he said. “We always learn a lot when we’re playing somebody like the Celtics on their home floor, with the team that they have. I look forward to watching us evolve. We will learn from this. We leave disappointed, but I think there’s lots, for me, you’re going to point to and say that’s a hell of a job.”

After the game, there seemed to be no hard feelings, as Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz shared an embrace on the court and Irving and Embiid exchanged numbers in the hallway outside the locker room.