BOSTON — Terry Rozier scored 29 points and Jayson Tatum added 28 to outplay the redshirt rookie Ben Simmons and lead the Boston Celtics to a 117-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
With much of the attention focused on Philadelphia’s young guns, Simmons and Joel Embiid, Boston’s Tatum and Rozier led the way. Rozier, who is in his third year, added eight rebounds and six assists, and Al Horford had 26 points and 7 rebounds for Boston.
Embiid scored 31 points with 13 rebounds for Philadelphia. Simmons scored 18, with seven boards and six assists.
For Game 2, scheduled for Thursday night in Boston, the Celtics are hoping to have Jaylen Brown back from a hamstring injury he sustained in the first-round series against Milwaukee. He had been “very doubtful” for Monday’s game and was ruled out about a half-hour before the tipoff, adding to injury woes that have already cost Boston Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.
Playing point guard in place of Irving, Rozier was a star for Boston in Game 7 against Milwaukee, and he came out hot again against the Sixers. He had 10 points and 6 assists in the first quarter and was 7 for 9 from 3-point range.
Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft who sat out all of last year with an injury, was heckled by the Boston crowd with chants of “Not a rookie!” In the fourth quarter, as Tatum stepped to the free-throw line to protect a double-digit lead, the chant turned to “He’s a rookie!”
Tatum was Boston’s first pick last year — third over all — after the team swapped the No. 1 pick to the Sixers and grabbed a 2018 first-rounder as well.
It was 33-33 with just over seven minutes left in the first half when the Celtics ran off 10 points in a row. Horford had four of the five baskets and assisted on the other. Boston led by 87-70 in the final minute of the third quarter when Philadelphia scored 9 straight points to pull within 9.
After Simmons made a layup to make it 97-88, Horford hit a 3 from the top of the key with 5 minutes 30 seconds left, and the score was never within single digits again.
Sixers Coach Brett Brown, who is familiar with the Philadelphia-Boston matchups of the 1980s, thinks there is enough young talent on the current 76ers and Celtics rosters to give the rivalry a rebirth.
“I hope so,” Brown said. “I personally grew up with this rivalry, just right on your doorstep and just a big part of your basketball life as a young kid. It sure seems like both programs are heading into the right direction.”