NBA playoffs: Celtics spoil Joel Embiid's return, bury 76ers with barrage of 3s to tie series at 1-1

Joel Embiid made his on-court debut as an NBA MVP on Wednesday after missing two straight playoff games with a knee injury.

The Boston Celtics spoiled the party. Embiid returned with few limitations and was his typically ferocious self on defense. But while he made life hard for Boston near the basket, the Celtics countered with a barrage of 3-pointers to fuel a 121-87 win over the Philadelphia 76ers to tie the Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1.

With Embiid on the court, the game took on an immediate change of tone from Game 1 that saw the Celtics shoot 85% from the field in the first quarter. Baskets were harder to come by on both sides of the court in Game 2. In the early goings, at least.

Embiid made his presence felt at the rim early with an athletic first-quarter block of Marcus Smart.

In the second quarter, he stuffed a Jaylen Brown dunk attempt, showing no signs of limiting the physicality that's a trademark of his game.

With life at the rim considerably tougher than Monday, Boston looked outside. The Celtics hit enough first-half 3-pointers (8 of 22) to build up a 57-49 halftime advantage despite shooting just 42.2% from the field. They matched Philadelphia's defensive intensity while holding the 76ers to 37.7% shooting in the half.

Then the lid came off the rim for Boston. The Celtics blew the game open in the third quarter with separate 12-1 and 13-0 runs. They did their offensive damage from long distance while hitting 7-of-15 3-pointers in the stanza. Malcolm Brogdon helped fuel the run while connecting on 3-of-6 3-point attempts. His pull-up 3 with 51.7 left in the quarter extended Boston's lead to 92-63 and all but signaled that the game was over.

While Boston got hot, Philadelphia continued to struggle from the field. The James Harden that channeled his former MVP form with 45 points in Game 1 came back to earth with 12 points on a 2-of-14 effort on Wednesday. Celtics defenders repeatedly bodied up on him as he looked to find openings to shoot. Embiid made a marginal impact on offense while attempting just nine field goals (hitting four) en route to 15 points, 3 rebounds and 5 blocks, all of which came in the first half.

There was no fourth quarter answer from Philadelphia, and the 76ers waved the white flag with more than eight minutes remaining. Both teams emptied their benches.

Jayson Tatum (left) struggled against Joel Embiid (right) and 76ers, but it didn't matter in a Celtics Game 2 blowout. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When it was done, the Celtics had hit 20-of-51 (39.2%) 3-point attempts. They averaged 42.6 3s per game during the regular season, the second-most in the NBA. Brogdon shot 6 of 10 from deep off the bench en route to 23 points and 6 rebounds. Grant Williams was 4 for 8 beyond the arc, where he scored all 12 of his points. Derrick White (15 points) and Brown (game-high 25 points) each went 3 for 6 from beyond the arc. Tatum struggled mightily in a 7-point, 7-rebound effort, but it didn't matter. Boston rolled.

While the Celtics caught fire from 3, the 76ers, who were the league's best shooting team from beyond the arc in the regular season (38.7%) shot 6 of 30 (20%) from deep. Harden missed all six of his attempts. Only Tobias Harris (2 of 5) hit more than one for Philadelphia en route to a team-high 16 points.

The 76ers can take solace in leaving Boston with a 1-1 tie with the series heading back to Philadelphia. But they were outmatched on both sides of the court on Wednesday.