Following an improbable fourth quarter run sparked by Boston’s defense and Jayson Tatum’s shot-making, the Boston Celtics extended this series to a Game 7, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 95-86. Leading the Celtics was Marcus Smart who led all Boston scorers with 22 points to go with 7 assists and 7 rebounds, while Robert Williams gave a significant punch after being inserted into the starting lineup. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey both put up 26 for the Sixers.
Smart bringing that energy pic.twitter.com/iiu9zFNnuT— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 12, 2023
The Celtics came out firing on all cylinders, opening up a 13-3 lead right away. The defense was crisp, and as has been the case all year, the Celtics lived (!) by the three. Unfortunately, unlike in previous matchups against the Sixers, Philadelphia hasn’t been beating themselves for once. To their credit, they’ve been really solid all series long, and that’s what prevented the first half lead for Boston from ballooning.
Unfortunately, the other thing preventing that from happening was Jayson Tatum putting up an offensive bagel: 1 point on 0-10 shooting. His only first-half point came on a technical freethrow following a take foul. Malcolm Brogdon thankfully brought the missing scoring off the bench, tossing in 13 points in just the first half.
The real star of the show in the first half was Marcus Smart. Following the gut punch of a loss in Game 5, Smart explained in graphic terms how the team needed to fight tonight. Leading by example, Smart was the first to the floor and the ball multiple times tonight (per usual), and he augmented that with a surprising burst of scoring.
Mr. Hustle pic.twitter.com/HdGq6YS3aH— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 12, 2023
Joe Mazzulla stuck with just his seven best players tonight, opting to not expand opportunities to players like Grant Williams, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard. This proved to be the right move, as almost all of the Celtics’ top players were sharp (despite Al Horford and Jayson Tatum struggling from the field), especially defensively.
The Celtics were probably hoping that Tatum would get it going in the third quarter, but that didn’t happen. After a solid start, the Celtics completely fell apart on both ends. Suddenly, the paint had a lid on it. When they were actually able to get a shot up, it was getting swatted or the layups weren’t dropping. The other times, just like in last year’s Finals, the Sixers were forcing turnover after turnover on drives. Robert Williams and Marcus Smart were the catalysts of everything good that happened, but there’s only so much they could impact.
Jaylen Brown (17 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) helped by being aggressive regardless of the results. After the Celtics fell down by five points, he helped push Boston to prevent it from getting out of hand.
Count the basket +1️⃣ pic.twitter.com/ygiGhq0kbC— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 12, 2023
The Celtics started the fourth down two, but they quickly regained their confidence as Jayson Tatum got to the freethrow line. Boston’s defense took over from there. Unlike in the first couple of quarters, the Celtics looked right at the rim and nowhere else. While things stagnated a little from both teams, Boston didn’t fall behind.
With a little over seven minutes left in the game, Jaylen Brown checked back in.
A bunch of stuff happened (sorry, still trying to process it all). The point is, Tatum hit back-to-back three-pointers, and suddenly, I forgot that he was 1-14 with 4 turnovers before the shots went down. After a tough bucket from Smart, the referees called a terrible (I mean TERRIBLE) foul on Horford that was overturned after Mazzulla used his coach’s challenge. One more Tatum dagger from three put the Celtics in comfortable position with 90 seconds left.
Back to back from three pic.twitter.com/06sznkeNSG— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 12, 2023
Tatum (19 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) remembering that he’s All-NBA First Team will get all the attention, but Boston’s defense left Philly parched in the desert, holding Philly to just 13 points in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics held James Harden to 13 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. Besides Harden, Maxey and Embiid, no other Sixer scored in double figures.
The Celtics and Sixers are tied at 3-3 and will square off for Game 7 in Boston on Sunday. Win or go home in the second round for the second year in a row. Grant Williams, is that your music?