Midway through the fourth quarter Sunday night, with all eyes on him and the 76ers gasping for air, Jayson Tatum swished a 3 in Joel Embiid’s face and held up the “5-0” to remind everyone in the building that this was his night.
Tatum poured in 51 points (17-of-28 shooting), breaking the NBA’s all-time Game 7 record set by Stephen Curry two weeks prior. It was a transcendent, glorious performance – one NBA fans will reminisce about decades later and one that will surely make Tatum’s mother, Brandy Cole, proud.
He fueled a dominant second half, as the Celtics turned a three-point lead into a decisive 112-88 victory at TD Garden.
THAT'S 51 POINTS FOR JAYSON TATUM #BleedGreen #BrotherlyLove #BeatPhila #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/CvRskYvX86— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 14, 2023
Boston has now made the Eastern Conference Finals five of the last seven seasons. Next up is a familiar foe in the Miami Heat. Game 1 is Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in Boston.
Sunday ended up as a shellacking, but it didn’t start out that way, as the Celtics and Sixers traded buckets throughout a captivating first half.
Tatum, clearly sick of hearing about his early-game struggles, came out aggressive and focused on attacking the basket. He and Robert Williams electrified the crowd with back-to-back dunks, helping the Celtics take an 8-2 edge.
The Sixers responded, as James Harden and Co. found P.J. Tucker wide open in the corner on multiple occasions. Boston seemed content with leaving Tucker free, but he capitalized and took advantage of nearly every opportunity.
Philadelphia built a 26-20 edge through 1, behind 11 points from Tucker and four assists from Harden. Tatum paced the Celtics with 11, yet Boston relied significantly on isolation basketball and shot just 36 percent compared to 50 percent for Philadelphia.
Boston reclaimed momentum early in the second, when Harden whacked a mask-less Jaylen Brown (25 points), made him bleed and received a flagrant foul. Brown hit both, Tatum and Williams connected on an alley-oop, then Brown finished inside to highlight a 9-0 flurry that tied the game at 35.
During that run, Georges Niang appeared to deliberately grab Brown’s leg from the bench, and both players received technical fouls. The Georges Knee-Ang jokes were inevitable.
Philly commits a technical from the bench. Yes, you read that right— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 14, 2023
don't mess with JB pic.twitter.com/RZI4J6rFwY
Nearly every Game 7 is chippy, but this half took chippiness to another level. The Garden crowd was engaged the whole way, as Brown requested, and the Celtics gave them a treat.
The Celtics managed to seize momentum after a series of delays, and Tatum finished off his 25-point half with a step-back 3 in the final minute. Boston moved the ball with more conviction in the second quarter and took a 55-52 edge into halftime.
That's 25 first half points from Jayson Tatum pic.twitter.com/fYBM4JwLem— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) May 14, 2023
That’s when Tatum took over, electrifying the crowd with a series of stepbacks and layups. Tatum outscored the 76ers himself in the third quarter, as Boston used a 33-10 third to seize command.
The fourth was mostly a formality, as Tatum finished what he started and the Celtics advanced.
Philadelphia had absolutely no answer, as Tatum reminded everyone that he is, humbly, one of the best players in the world.