Jayson Tatum humbly believes he’s one of the best basketball players in the NBA, and not even a long streak of missed shots in a game 6 win-or-else can shake his faith.
But sometimes a pep talk straight from the heart helps even the most confident stars. Boston rookie coach Joe Mazzulla pulled the forward aside in a late timeout and didn’t tie or tell Tatum to keep shooting and soon the buckets would fall.
His message was simpler. “I love you,” Mazzulla said to Tatum. “That’s a pretty strong statement.”
Tatum rewarded his coach’s love with decisive three-pointers right through the heart of a Philadelphia comeback that pushed the Celtics past the 76ers 95-86 on Thursday night to send the Eastern Conference semifinals back to Boston for Game 7.
There were plenty of famous faces on court to catch the exciting action, as NFL stars Damar Hamlin and the Kelce brothers looked on.
The Boston Celtics kept their season alive for one more game by beating the 76ers in Game 6
Jayson Tatum got off to a slow start, but a stunning fourth quarter helped the Celtics win
Travis Kelce (L) of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles watch
Bill’s safety Damar Hamlin greeted Donovan Mitchell as he watched the game
Jason Kelce wore a Philly jersey, but he must have gone home disappointed after Boston sealed the win and went the full distance this series.
The defending champions of the Conference are on familiar ground. Boston trailed 3-2 in the second round against Milwaukee last season before winning Game 6 on the road and the clincher at home.
Game 7 is Sunday. The winner of the Miami-New York Semifinals awaits the Celtics or 76ers.
Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points in the regular season, kept the confidence high. He missed 14 of his first 15 total shots from the floor—and his first six 3s—and his 3 1/2 quarter ineffectiveness was a major reason the Celtics squandered a 16-point lead.
With a shot at their first conference final since 2001 on the line, the Sixers slogged through the first half before Joel Embiid showed his MVP form and lifted the Sixers to a fourth-quarter lead.
Tyrese Maxey skipped two free throws 5:25 for an 83-81 lead. And that was it for Philly in yet another postseason homebreaker.
Tatum buried a 3 for the 84-83 lead and a second that made it 87-83 and gave the Celtics firm control over Game 6. Tatum stuck with the 76ers with a final 3-pointer for a 95-84 lead.
Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams (left-right) celebrate victory at Wells Fargo Center
Marcus Smart played well for the Celtics, leading the team with 22 points in the win
Embiid and Tyrese Maxey each scored 26 points for the 76ers.
“If I have to go to battle, Game 7 in Boston, I would want to go with this group,” said Maxey. “I know we have fighters, I know we have resilient guys. I am ready.’
76ers coach Doc Rivers has won three 3-1 leads during his playoff career. While the 76ers only led 3-2, this is their second home loss in the series.
And more ominous history looms for Rivers. Rivers, the 2008 NBA championship coach with Boston, has lost nine times in a Game 7, four more than any other head coach.
The Sixers unraveled in the fourth after a rally in the third — tinkered by two crucial 3s by Georges Niang — and after Embiid’s pull-up jumper tied it 81-all, the 76ers didn’t make a bucket beyond the last 6 : 13 of the game.
The Sixers couldn’t close in the closeout quarter, missing 15 of 20 shots and all eight 3s in the decisive fourth.
“We stopped moving the ball,” said Embiid. “I don’t think I touched the ball in the last 4 minutes of the game. Missed a lot of nice looks. I didn’t touch the ball though.’
NBA MVP Joel Embiid led the way for Philly with 26 points and added 10 rebounds in loss
76ers point guard Tyrese Maxey put in another strong performance, also scoring 26 points
Tatum missed all 10 shots, including five three-point attempts, in the first half as the Celtics led by seven. Tatum has said he may need surgery on his left wrist in the off-season after a hard fall. Whatever the cause of his shooting problems, he found the cure in the last 12 minutes and the East champions are still alive.
Tatum finished with 19 points on just 5-for-21 shooting, but the final stat line mattered little after he scored the 14-3 run that turned the game in their favor.
Like Game 3, when the Sixers squandered the momentum of Embiid’s MVP ceremony, the 76ers again failed to keep a packed house as rocking as they did at the tip. The Celtics took a quick 15-3 lead that silenced the crowd and unbalanced the Sixers.
The Celtics led 40-26, in part because of three threes from Malcolm Brogdon, but an ineffective half from Embiid, James Harden and Tobias Harris. Embiid and Harris started 1 of 7 and Harden 2 of 8 and still the deficit could have been much bigger.
The Sixers managed to stabilize somewhat—the creaking Harden surprised everyone with a rare, thunderous dunk—and the Sixers trailed only 50-43 at halftime.