Brett Brown called a timeout after multiple Jaylen Brown slashing dunks. But the one he didn’t call as the Celtics stormed back down 21 to within five in the same quarter haunted him.
Boston broke into an offensive rhythm that didn’t stop into the final moments, shredding the 76ers for a 50-30 run through the middle portion of a game they’d close with perfect passing to manipulate Joel Embiid playing with five fouls while five minutes remained on the clock. Ben Simmons proved ineffective, Marcus Smart lit up the three-point line and Terry Rozier once again flashed dynamic scoring in crunch time to pull off a 108-103 win and improbable lead in the second round.
Brad Stevens called timeout with only JJ Redick on the scoring board. He had popped a corner three, another left the left wing and received a cutting pass inside to push the 76ers ahead 8-0. Elsewhere Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier traded misses inside and on the perimeter, while a set of overpassing where Tatum reached the rim on a tight spin move ended with Al Horford catching a pass out-of-bounds.
Philadelphia jumped ahead 11-5, as Boston failed to muster any offense aside from a tightly-contested Marcus Smart corner three. Then Jaylen Brown entered the game to a raucous applause.
He pushed to get involved immediately, missing a three on the left wing right after receiving his pass. But the lane opened like the Red Sea, as Dario Saric dribbled the ball off his leg at the top of the arc and sent it flying into the back court. Brown slipped between him and Robert Covington, seamlessly scooping the rock up and soaring into a dunk.
The Celtics’ hardest task remained, chasing Redick off the three-point line. Even as they attacked him for points on the offensive end he terrorized them starting 5-for-5. One disastrous turnover by Smart floating on the perimeter flowed right to the left wing in rhythm for Redick to cap a 31-22 lead after one.
In the ensuing minutes the 76ers rushed to the rim with quick makes by TJ McConnell, who then fed Covington inside for an easy two next possession. Joel Embiid returned to war with Aron Baynes, tossing up two misses, grabbing his own rebounds and crafting his own 5-0 run to propel the Sixers to a 40-24 advantage two minutes into the second.
After a Shane Larkin finish, the Celtics jumped into an 0-for-4 swoon.
With Boston’s offense in a 32 percent shooting hole, Brad Stevens turned to Greg Monroe for the first time since game six of the Milwaukee series. The move quickly swung against them, as he slowly broke to Dario Saric on the perimeter as a placed the Celtics down 21 on a kick-out by Ben Simmons. Another by Covington out of timeout made it 48-26 midway through the second. Saric swung him a pass trapped inside.
By half, Philadelphia’s 20-point lead dipped all the way to five as the Monroe insertion swung the game. He’d charge through Saric for two makes at the rim, crashed the paint with Horford as the two tipped the ball up for a make as part of a massive 26-8 run.
Brown got involved with a transition three, Rozier flashed a euro-step that Kyrie Irving had to imitate on the sideline, then as Monroe exited he attacked the three-point line three out of four possessions and splashed two to send the TD Garden into a frenzy. In between, he fed Smart to convert a third three-pointer before Brown shut down the half with eight seconds left at 56-51.
Into the second half, Redick continued to battle the world from the three-point line as he had to pace with a monsoon of shooting by the Celtics. Boston worked a lead as Smart and Redick traded outside bombs, Horford stepped up in the middle to shut down a third chance possession by Covington around the rim and Tatum traded threes with Redick. The first lead of the game emerged with Baynes’ corner three popping into the air and falling through the net as Rozier leaped to try and grab it.
The Celtics jumped into a steady lead on a 9-0 run, Brett Brown once again refusing to call timeout while Smart and Marcus Morris converted a pair of mid-rangers, Brown hit a three in the right corner and Horford barreled to the rim. He changed his tune when Tatum scorched his man on the right baseline and slammed with his right hand, placing Boston up 76-68.
Tatum and Embiid traded blows to close the third, as Tatum picked off his pass and slowed down with the finger roll in transition as Covington flew past him. Embiid responded with a three-point play facing up Baynes.
McConnell raced into the fourth with two quick makes to tie the game within one minute, he burst into the paint to grab an offensive rebound amongst the taller trees and kicked to Covington for three in a go-ahead stretch for the Sixers up one. Morris and Brown responded, with a three and slashing dunk that forced the other Brown into a timeout.
In a game that swung on threes, Philadelphia continued to assert itself with a 48 percent mark outside deep into the fourth. Embiid buried one, left alone at the top of the arc, then Covington pushed Philly ahead by three with seven minutes left.
Two minutes later Horford dribbled by Embiid and slight contact drew a fifth foul on the latter that changed the game. Horford tied the game at the line, and the Celtics’ offense for the final five predicated on attacking him through Al.
Morris bailed out Smart after a heaved three with an offensive rebound, resetting and drilling one of his own. Horford set the next possession, slashing toward Embiid and spinning a pass across his body to Rozier for three. With 2:49 left, Horford and Smart handed the ball off in the high post, working Rozier around Embiid to the rim for a solidifying layup. The 76ers reached within three, but failed to foul as Horford blew by Embiid and all the way to Philadelphia with a 2-0 lead.