It’s only fitting that the Eastern Conference playoff semifinal round between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers has come down to a Game 7.
Sunday’s decider in Boston will be the eighth meeting in a Game 7 between the Celtics and Sixers — adding to the teams’ record for the most between two franchises in NBA history.
Philadelphia had a chance to wrap up the series at home, but Boston’s 95-86 victory in Game 6 Thursday forced a Game 7. Jayson Tatum got hot at the right time to help the Celtics outscore the 76ers 24-13 in the fourth quarter on Thursday.
Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points per game during the regular season, hit only one of 13 shots from the field, and none of his first six 3-point attempts, through the first three periods. He outscored Philadelphia 16-13 over the final 12 minutes, however.
He was 4 of 5 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter.
“Every timeout, every huddle, my teammates kept telling me, ‘The next one’s going in,'” Tatum said. “Keep rebounding, keep getting assists, keep getting blocks, keep impacting the game. It’s going to come. So that was helpful, and just believing the next one is going in.
“Hopefully, that’s a one-time thing,” Tatum continued. “Hopefully, I start off better, things like that, but if this is what it takes for us to win, I’ll go for whatever. Sunday is obviously a big game, Game 7, and I’m excited to go back and kind of like redeem ourselves in front of our home crowd.”
Philadelphia tied Game 6, 81-81, on a jumper by NBA MVP Joel Embiid with 6:13 left in the game, but the 76ers scored only one more field goal. Philadelphia missed 15 of its 20 shots from the field in the fourth, including eight 3-point attempts.
“We stopped moving the ball,” Embiid said. “I don’t think I touched the ball the last four minutes of the game. Missed a lot of good looks. I didn’t touch the ball, though.”
Tatum made four 3-pointers in the final 4:14 of Game 6 and finished with 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting.
“When you’re all tight and not enjoying the game, it shows,” Smart said. “Your play shows it. When we’re out there just enjoying the game, having fun, playing for one another, that shows as well. It’s a positive thing to see.
“You could see, JT starts to get hot, he starts smiling. That helps. That type of energy is very, very contagious.”
Philadelphia will be attempting to move past the semifinals for the first time since 2001, when Allen Iverson led the 76ers to the NBA Finals. Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers has a 6-9 record in Game 7s, and those nine losses are more than any other coach in NBA history. He has never won a Game 7 on the road.
Two of Philadelphia’s three victories in the series came in Boston.
“If I have to go to war, Game 7 in Boston, I would want to go with this group,” Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey said. “I know we’ve got some fighters. I know we’ve got some resilient guys. I’m ready to get it on.”
Boston trailed Milwaukee 3-2 in the semifinal round last season but won Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home.
Sunday’s winner will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. That series is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Boston or Philadelphia.
–Field Level Media