Winners of two consecutive games and having restored home court advantage for the series, the Boston Celtics entered Game 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers with an opportunity to assert command over the Eastern Conference Semifinals. In a competitive game from start-to-finish, though, the Celtics fell just short in overtime. They dropped an opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead, losing 116-115, evening the series 2-2 as it returns to Boston for Game 5.
The Celtics rode a balanced offensive attack, with six players scoring in double-digits, including 20+ point nights from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. For the Sixers, James Harden posted another masterclass — including the game-winner — with 42 points, and Joel Embiid looked lively with 34 points of his own.
With control of the series slipping out of their hands, it was obvious that the Sixers were going to come into this game with renewed energy. That expectation bore out in the first quarter. Philadelphia started fast, and though Brown matched their early effort with 12 first quarter points, the Sixers were able to compile, incredibly, their largest lead of the entire series with an 8-point advantage. Embiid was in a rhythm and the Celtics seemed to be on their heels, at one point missing 13 of 14 shot attempts. The Celtics trailed 27-19 after the opening quarter.
Playoff Al ain't having that pic.twitter.com/Bj8NTUsUbA— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 7, 2023
The second quarter belonged to the pariah of the previous two games: James Harden. After managing just five made baskets in Games 2 and 3, Harden nailed eight buckets in the first half alone, scoring 21 points. His resurgence was unfortunately timed against Tatum’s worst half of basketball this postseason; the Celtics’ best player did not record a made field goal until the final minute of the first half, starting 1-for-9 from the field. The Celtics struggled through more than four minutes of scoreless basketball, but after a Horford three to end the half, remarkably entered the midway point trailing by just nine, 59-50, despite Philadelphia’s apparent dominance.
Tatum found something of a rhythm in the third quarter, hitting his first four shots. Embiid and Harden continue to get theirs, however, and the Celtics didn’t make any meaningful inroads towards reclaiming the lead. Both teams cracked 30 points in the quarter, but both scored 33, leaving the Celtics in the same position they had at the half, trailing by nine. They trailed the Sixers 92-83 entering the final frame.
chipping away pic.twitter.com/N8aAKGUFCd— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 7, 2023
After a few minutes of scuffling from both teams, the Celtics opened the scoring in the fourth quarter with a Derrick White fastbreak layup with just under 10 minutes remaining in regulation, prompting a Doc Rivers timeout. A Smart three-pointer cut the Sixers’ lead within five points with just under seven minutes to play, and it seemed to open the floodgates — finally! — for the Celtics’ offense. A three from Brown and a fastbreak layup from Tatum tied the game up in startling fashion, 96-all with 5:25 remaining in regulation.
big plays at both ends pic.twitter.com/LT2Np2ezW8— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 7, 2023
Coming out of the Philadelphia timeout, the two teams endured a couple minutes of physical, scoreless basketball. As the clock ticked under four minutes to play, Smart found Horford under the basket for a layup that put the Celtics ahead for the first time since the first quarter. Harden quickly drew the Sixers even, drawing a foul and hitting both free throws to reset the game at 98-98 with 3:38 to play.
HORFORD SHIMMY pic.twitter.com/e9aV5o0Ef3— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 7, 2023
Smart’s remarkable resurgence in the series continued tonight. He hit four threes and scored 21 points on the afternoon, and none were more important than his triple with just under three minutes remaining in regulation. Harden hit a midrange pull-up jumper, but it was sandwiched b1y Smart’s three and another from Brogdon, and the Celtics pulled ahead by five with two minutes to play.
The Sixers weren’t done yet. After a few traded buckets, PJ Tucker grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul on the ensuing layup, converting a three-point play to draw the Sixers even at 105 apiece with 1:06 remaining on the clock. Smart made a pair of free throws on the other end to restore a two-point Boston lead, and Horford blocked an Embiid layup attempt, but the Sixers retained possession and a Harden floater would send the game to overtime after Smart’s open three-point attempt missed paydirt.
quick bucket pic.twitter.com/bAr6IgSooM— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 7, 2023
Overtime began with Maxey and Tatum trading buckets early, before Smart bullied his way to an and-one layup to grant the Celtics a three-point lead. Embiid hit a midrange bucket to pull within one point moments after, but drew an offensive foul against Smart on a subsequent possession that was immediately challenged by Rivers. The challenge was ruled unsuccessful, and the Celtics were given the ball with 1:49 remaining in overtime.
On a missed three from Harden with just over a minute to play, Horford drew a whistle for a loose ball foul. Embiid drove to the basket on the ensuing possession and drew the whistle, putting himself at the line and putting the Sixers ahead with a pair of free throws. The Celtics held off on taking a timeout on the ensuing possession, and Tatum drilled a pull-up three against Maxey to put the Celtics ahead 115-113 with 38 seconds remaining, prompting a Sixers timeout. Coming out of the stoppage, Harden hit a corner three to put the Sixers ahead by one, and Smart’s three-pointer on the final possession came far too late, solidifying a Philadelphia win.
Next up, the two teams will head back to the TD Garden in Boston for Game 5, this Tuesday at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.