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Boston Celtics pushed to the brink, lose blowout Game 5 to Philadelphia 76ers, 115-103

The Celtics started poorly and finished worse, and now sit on the brink of elimination

2023 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

After questionable decision-making on the final possession of Game 4 on Sunday cost them a win, the Boston Celtics found themselves in tenuous position entering Tuesday night’s Game 5 against the Philadelphia 76ers. What could have been a commanding 3-1 series lead turned into a brand new series, with the two teams taking the court in Boston looking to put the other on the ropes. That mistake proved costly — the Celtics looked sluggish and absent-minded in Game 5, and suffered a 115-103 loss to fall behind 3-2 in the semifinals for the second consecutive season.

Jayson Tatum was Boston’s leading scorer with 36 points, but he struggled through yet another slow start as the Celtics fell behind Philadelphia early. Jaylen Brown was curiously uninvolved in the offense, struggling with pressure from PJ Tucker and the Sixers defense and attempting just nine field goals through three quarters (16 for the game, 24 points). Philadelphia’s three best players just had this game under control. Joel Embiid and James Harden combined for 50 points — including 21 free throw attempts — and Tyrese Maxey had his best game against the Celtics of the season with 30 points and six made threes.

Marcus Smart opened Boston’s scoring with back-to-back threes, but the Celtics found few easier buckets in the early going this evening. The Sixers dialed in defensively, and though the Celtics found the bottom of the net reasonably well — 45% from the field in the quarter — they had to work for every point. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was unconscious from three-point range, hitting five threes, including two from the reigning MVP. The Celtics trailed by seven after the first quarter, 33-26.

Complicating matters was the Celtics’ ineffectiveness on the glass. They lost the rebounding battle by a significant margin in the first half, surrendering five offensive boards, including three to Embiid, one of which resulted in a three-point play. Piled on top of that was another slow start from Tatum, who missed his first six shots of the game en route to a 3-of-10 first half.

The Philadelphia lead swelled into the double-digits as the second quarter began, as the Sixers opened the frame with a 7-0 run, forcing a Joe Mazzulla timeout just 90 seconds in. The Celtics staunched the bleeding from there, punching back with a 10-0 run of their own to draw back within reach of the lead, but the momentum lasted just a moment. Their run gave way to more than three minutes of scoreless basketball, and after a half where very little seemed to go right, they were lucky to trail by just nine points, 58-49.

The Celtics continued to look like they were playing with the game set to “Very Hard” difficulty as play resumed. They simply couldn’t put points on the board with any consistency, failing to string together even two consecutive buckets in the third quarter. The Sixers did exactly what they needed to — knocked down shots and avoided mistakes, and they pushed their lead to 16 entering the final quarter.

Mercifully, the Boston offense found their first consecutive baskets of the second half in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, a modest 5-0 run behind a Brogdon layup and a Tatum and-one. Modest was all the run would be; Maxey and Embiid drilled a pair of threes on either side of a pair of missed free throws from Brown, and that was the end of any fight the Celtics had in them this evening.

Next up, the fate of the series is on the line, as the Celtics face a do-or-die Game 6 in Philadelphia, this Thursday at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN.

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