1. In Game of Thrones there is a scene where Arya Stark’s sword-fighting instructor Syrio Forel sends her away as some soldiers come to attack them. As he prepares to cover her exit, Syrio asks Arya “What do we say to the God of Death?” to which Arya replies “Not today.”
The Boston Celtics season was on the brink of death, but the Celtics said “Not today” and forced a Game 7.
This team never makes it easy. Maybe that’s their calling card. For whatever reason, the harder the path, the better they play.
It was a team-wide success, as Joe Mazzulla made some lineup and rotation calls, plus some on-court adjustments with schemes and coverages. Only seven players saw action, but they all contributed in positive ways.
Add it all up, and the Boston Celtics, like Arya Stark, lived to fight another day.
2. Marcus Smart may not have had all the endgame heroics, but he was Boston’s best player in Game 6. Never afraid of the moment, Smart stepped up and made several big plays throughout the game to help keep the Celtics season alive.
You had a feeling Smart might be in for a big night when his fist shot went down:
A little later Smart pinched in and took the ball away from Joel Embiid, ultimately drawing a transition take foul from Embiid:
Smart’s feeling good now and he’s confidently letting it fly:
When he’s feeling good, Smart tends to be everywhere defensively. This steal, and hard push, gets the Sixers cross-matched and opens up the drive for Jaylen Brown:
This play more than any other tells the story of how much Marcus Smart wanted a Game 7:
At the beginning of the second half, Smart settled into his playmaker mode. First was this gorgeous no-look lob to Rob Williams:
A couple of possessions later, Smart’s patience in transition paid off, as he set up Al Horford for the easy one:
Then, near the end, when the Celtics needed a big hoop, Smart delivered:
It was one of those not-to-be-denied performances from the Celtics heart and soul. Every time Boston needed a big play, Marcus Smart was involved in making one happen.
3. For a decent stretch of the game, Jaylen Brown carried the Celtics offense. He hit some jumpers, but Brown has hit the point where he knows no one on the Sixers can guard him off the dribble.
That attack mindset showed up on this strong finish late in the second quarter:
To open the second half, Brown went right at Joel Embiid again:
When Philadelphia overreacted to Brown’s drives, he was content to find shooters:
Brown was also not going to be denied. And he wasn’t afraid to attack Embiid head-on:
4. We mentioned it before, but one of Joe Mazzulla’s big changes was inserting Rob Williams back into the starting group. Williams replaced Derrick White and the change was impactful. Williams’ size and athleticism showed up in help defense several times. Whether that came against Joel Embiid, as Williams functioned as the designated double-teamer, or on help when the Sixers drove, Williams altered a lot of shots in the paint. He also helped shore up the defensive rebounding, as the 76ers managed only six offensive rebounds all game.
Mazzulla’s other change was to play just seven players. Only Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White saw time off the bench. That meant no Celtic sat for very long, and they all more or less stayed in rhythm, with one notable exception that we’ll cover next.
Mazzulla’s scheme and coverages changes were a bit more subtle. Boston played less drop coverage, especially on the tight pick-and-roll plays around the elbow that Philadelphia went to a lot in Game 5. With Williams behind him to clean up, Al Horford did a lot more coming up to the level of the ball on screen actions.
Finally, Mazzulla used a bunch of timeouts in smart spots. He used a couple to quell Sixers runs, but he also had a real pulse on when his guys needed a breather. Mazzulla even used one that seemed to be just to get Jaylen Brown back into the game. And he saved his challenge and used it in the perfect spot to remove a foul and two free throws, when Horford came up with a big stop late.
5. Jayson Tatum’s shot was nowhere to be found in the early part of this game. For the better part of almost 44 minutes, Tatum couldn’t make a shot. But that didn’t keep him from impacting the game in other ways.
In transition, this was a good catch and pass by Tatum to set up Rob Williams for the dunk:
Tatum’s defense was excellent throughout the game. It’s rare that someone gets James Harden’s step-back from in front, but Tatum was all over it here:
After contesting the shot and getting the rebound, Tatum got Boston out running again before finding Smart open in the corner:
When Harden found Tobias Harris with the hit-ahead, Tatum took it away:
All of the other stuff was there from Tatum when the scoring wasn’t. And we all knew the shots would eventually fall.
6. And fall those shots eventually did.
With Boston down two, their star had no hesitation, despite the poor-shooting night to this point:
On the next trip, Tatum got to that long step-back:
Following a big stop, Tatum and Marcus Smart worked the pick-and-pop to perfection:
One more time, for the dagger to send the series back to Boston:
7. Sandwiched in between all of those monster shots from Jayson Tatum were two huge plays by Al Horford to get stops.
First, Horford came up with this big strip of James Harden, after a successful challenge by Joe Mazzulla:
That led to a late-clock launch that missed. On Philadelphia’s next possession, Horford picked up Harden on the switch again. This time he stayed in front and contested the baseline runner to force a miss:
Overall, Boston held Philadelphia without a made field goal for almost the final six minutes of the game. They were locked in, led by their veteran leader.
8. Malcolm Brogdon had a pretty miserable Game 5. In Game 6, he came out firing and helped stabilize the Celtics early.
This is a good read by Jaylen Brown in transition and Brogdon delivered the pullup three:
A couple of plays later, Brogdon is working in the halfcourt. With Embiid laying back, and Marcus Smart getting just enough of the defender, Brogdon is up and into his pullup three again:
9. Derrick White took the lineup change in stride. He just did what he does, as he came off the bench and did a little bit of everything. It was good to see White take his shots without hesitation. This was a nice pass by Jaylen Brown out of a double-team and White ripped the net:
And we all know White is good for at least one block per game:
10. Everyone did something to help the Celtics win Game 6 on the road. And Jayson Tatum came through when Boston needed him to most. Now it’s a do-or-die Game 7 in TD Garden and the Miami Heat could be awaiting the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the exact spot the Celtics were in a year ago. Tatum came up big in Game 6 to help force a Game 7. And the Celtics played a Game 7 at home with the Heat waiting for the victor on the other side.
We’ll find out Sunday if history is indeed repeating itself. The Celtics know what they have to do. They’ve already asked the crowd to make TD Garden a hostile, miserable, unwelcoming environment for the 76ers. Game 7. It all comes down to getting it done in Boston.