Rob Issa, FISM News
Jayson Tatum sent Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers home early again.
Tatum scored a Game 7-record 51 points to lead the Boston Celtics to a 112-88 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year after rallying from a 3-2 series deficit. Meanwhile, NBA MVP Embiid and the Sixers still haven’t made it past the second round since 2001.
Tatum carried the Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game 6 after struggling mightily in the first three quarters of that game. In Game 7, he was clutch from start to finish.
Tatum scored 25 points in the first half as Boston built a three-point lead. He exploded for 17 in a third quarter that saw the Celtics outscore Philadelphia 33-10 to turn the game into a rout.
“I was relieved just to get another chance. Our season could have been over after Game 6,” Tatum said. “It definitely was on my mind that I had played as bad as it could get, for 43 minutes. We had a saying: ‘It’s only up from here.’
“Going into Game 6 — it sounds crazy, I was too locked in. I was too tight. I was too in my own head thinking about what I need to do. How many points I need to score. It’s a big moment. And today I was more myself. Pregame, I was relaxed, laughing, joking. That’s when I play my best, when I’m having fun. I just tried not to think about the pressure, what everybody is going to say. Just focus on the game and having fun.”
Tatum broke Stephen Curry’s Game 7 record of 50 points set just two weeks ago. He made 17 of 28 shots, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range. Jaylen Brown added 25 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 off the bench for the Celtics.
The Celtics will face Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in the East finals for the second straight year. Boston won in seven games last season before losing to Golden State in the NBA Finals.
“You always come into a series with the expectation of how it’s supposed to go,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “That’s not how the playoffs are.”
Mazzulla is in his first year as an NBA head coach after being promoted when Ime Udoka was suspended before training camp.
“He’s done such a good job managing our team, our locker room, through ups and downs,” Celtics center Al Horford said. “He has a really good feel for things and I’m very happy for our team, but (also) for him. It’s not easy being in this position and he figures that out and he’s putting us in the best position to win.”
Embiid scored just 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting and James Harden only had 9 points on 3-for-11 shooting. Tobias Harris had 19 points and Tyrese Maxey added 17.
The Sixers have been knocked out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals five times in the last six seasons. They were swept out of the first round by Boston in 2020.
“I thought we had the right group. I really did,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, who led Boston to an NBA title in 2008. “We played great all year and this loss absolutely diminishes what we did this year in some way. … I think this team is headed right. I thought we took another step this season. And then tonight I think we took a step backward. But that’s OK. That happens, too.”
Embiid made it clear he needs more help although he played poorly in his biggest game.
“I still believe that me and (James Harden), we got the chance to win but it’s gonna take more than us,” Embiid said. “We all gotta look at ourselves. I gotta be better and I will be better. That’s what I’m focused on. All of us, we gotta come back and find ways to just keep improving and help the team.
“Can’t win alone. I can’t win alone. Me and James, we just can’t win alone. That’s why basketball is played five-on-five. So we just need everybody to just keep finding ways to get better and we’ll be fine.”