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Sharp-shooting Celtics blitz Sixers to square series

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers defends Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics during the second half of game two of the Eastern Conference Second Round Playoffs at TD Garden on May 03, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 121-87. Photo by Maddie Meyer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The Boston Celtics produced an exhibition of three-point shooting to blow away the Philadelphia 76ers 121-87 and square their Eastern Conference playoff series on Wednesday.

Jaylen Brown led a clinical offensive display for the second-seeded Celtics to swat aside a Sixers line-up who welcomed back newly crowned NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid after an injury absence of nearly two weeks.

Brown finished with 25 points while Malcolm Brogdon poured in 23 from the bench, including six three-pointers, as the Celtics bounced back from Monday’s game-one loss at the TD Garden.

The best-of-seven series is now level at 1-1 as the teams head to Philadelphia for game three on Friday.

After Wednesday’s rout, Sixers coach Doc Rivers will have plenty of food for thought despite the mostly successful return of Embiid, who had not played since injuring his right knee in game three of the first-round sweep of Brooklyn.

Embiid made his presence felt with 15 points and five blocks but was clearly not at full fitness, before being removed from the fray in the third quarter as Boston surged into a commanding lead.

Boston meanwhile will be buoyed by a display that mixed defensive ruggedness with free-scoring offense.

“We just set the tone on defense, trying to be aggressive on both sides of the ball, getting our team-mates going. But really just setting the tone on defense and having fun,” Celtics forward Brown said afterwards.

No fewer than eight Celtics players contributed to Boston’s tally of 20 three-pointers from 51 attempts.

Philadelphia by contrast made only six of 30 from beyond the arc with their off-night underscored by James Harden’s futile shooting from three-point range.

Harden, the 45-point hero of Monday’s game one, made zero of six attempted three-pointers, finishing with just 12 points from 2-of-14 shooting.

Philadelphia led by two points briefly early in the first quarter, but the Celtics scored steadily thereafter to edge clear.

“Offensively we were pretty bad, but give them credit — their ball pressure ate us up all night,” Rivers said.

“I thought they pressured us, they denied us, they played in our airspace all game. We talked about it before the game.

“But you can talk about intensity and force all you want. When you get out on the court and it’s actually being applied to you, you have to be able to handle it. And we didn’t handle it very well tonight.”

After taking a 57-49 lead at half-time, the Celtics dropped the hammer in the third quarter, blitzing the Sixers 35-16 — 21 points coming from three-point distance — to effectively seal victory.

That left Boston up by 27 points heading into the final quarter and there was no way back for a shellshocked Sixers team.

The Celtics continued to score freely in the fourth quarter, stretching their lead to 34 points as the Sixers threw in the towel.

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