Before the Celtics‘ game on Sunday afternoon, Jaylen Brown had used his public platform to send a message to the home crowd: cheer loudly. According to him, the atmosphere at TD Garden for the team’s home games against the Philadelphia 76ers in the N.B.A. Eastern Conference semifinals had been lukewarm at best.
Brown got his wish for the decisive seventh game on Sunday. Early in the morning and late at night, the volume was high. Every slam dunk, 3-pointer, defensive stop, and offensive rebound was met with roars of approval from the fans.
Jayson Tatum of Boston encouraged the crowd for more noise as time expired in the fourth quarter, after he had just completed a tour de force and the finest game of his career. They gladly carried out the request.
After a 112-88 win that ended the best-of-seven series and kept Boston’s championship hopes alive, the crowd was still applauding as the Celtics departed the floor.
Tatum, a first-team All-NBA pick who had not exactly been at his best during the series, was spectacular on Sunday, setting a new NBA record with 51 points. In the victory, Brown contributed 25 points. The Celtics’ advantage peaked at 30 points.
The third-seeded 76ers, who also had championship dreams, will enter the offseason with a lot of questions after a crushing defeat. Newly crowned NBA MVP Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers shot only 5 of 18 from the floor on the way to a 15-point performance in Game 7. James Harden, a guard with the Sixers, was held to only 9 points.
Two consecutive three-pointers from Brown and Tatum in the third quarter helped the second-seeded Celtics of the Eastern Conference put the game away. Even though the postseason series was close throughout, the final quarter was more like a celebration.
As a result, the Celtics will host the eighth-seeded Miami Heat for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday. After making it through the play-in round, the Heat went on to eliminate the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and the second-seeded New York Knicks in six games during the conference semifinals. The Celtics advanced over the Atlanta Hawks, the tournament’s seventh seed, in six games.
The Heat have a star in Jimmy Butler, a scary two-way player who seldom has an off night but always seems to raise his level of play in the playoffs.
Of course, Tatum is the Celtics’ electric star, but he struggled against the 76ers. He was the top performer of the day. He had 13 boards and 5 assists on top of shooting 17/28 from the field and 6/10 from deep.
The 76ers blew a 3-2 series lead and a chance to win the series at home on Thursday. 13 of Tatum’s first 14 field goal tries were missed in the contest. The Celtics were able to win the game 95-86 thanks to a strong defensive effort and a late scoring surge by Tatum.
Game 7s are always tense, but in this case it felt more crucial for both sides. A defeat would have been devastating for the Celtics, who made it all the way to the NBA Finals last season before falling in six games to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
However, development is seldom linear, and this season was especially difficult for the Celtics due to a coaching change that came before training camp began, an injury that ended Danilo Gallinari’s season before he played a game, and a defence that lacked its typical pzazz.
Embiid’s selection by the 76ers in the 2014 NBA draught was a key component of the Process, the team-building process the Sixers have been engaged in since before he arrived in Philadelphia. However, a deep playoff run was necessary now.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers knew his team was under a lot of pregame scrutiny and expected his starters to go “to the max of exhaustion.”
Embiid dribbled quietly around the half-court line in the waning seconds before the tip. He practised shooting with imaginary shots before passing to Tyrese Maxey.
Embiid’s day deteriorated from there. Somehow, Harden’s version was worse. Six consecutive playoff campaigns have ended without the 76ers reaching the conference finals.
The series was plagued by inconsistent acting. Harden topped the list with 45 points in Game 1 but then shot only 5 of 28 from the field in the next two defeats. He scored 42 points in Game 4, but was quiet again in Games 5 and 6. Which Harden will come up for Game 7 was the big question.
Early in the second quarter, he looked to lose control of the ball when making a layup although he was clearly struggling. While in mid-air, Harden caught Brown with an elbow to the face.
The Celtics were in the midst of a run when Brown, who had a cotton swab jammed in his left nostril after colliding with Harden and needed to stop the bleeding, fell in front of the other team’s bench. The 76ers’ Georges Niang leaned out from his folding chair and grabbed Brown’s left leg as he recovered himself and turned to sprint upcourt.
Both Brown and Niang received technical fouls after Brown screamed at Niang. Boston was in last place at the time. The Celtics, though, made sure the crowd remained boisterous.