PHILADELPHIA — At the end of one of the strangest games of his career, Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum slammed the ball into the court with seconds left. The sound of a heavy dribble seemed to fill the Wells Fargo Center as thousands of 76ers fans tried to make sense of what happened in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Each one was a percussion-like impact sound.
How was that possible? How did the 76ers squander their chances of reaching their first conference finals since 2001? How did the Celtics use the simple change of slipping Robert Williams into the starting lineup to strengthen their defense? And how did Tatum ultimately keep his team’s season alive after spending most of the night doing freakish jumpshots?
“For 43 minutes I had to say how bad they were,” Tatum said of the fans. “So it was kind of nice to see everyone get up and leave early.”
A bizarre series full of bizarre games will last a long time. Because it isn’t. — after the Celtics’ 95-86 win over the 76ers on Thursday forced a Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.
Both teams are built to win now. These are not young, overachieving franchises. The 76ers, centered around Joel Embiid, who recently won his first ever NBA Most Valuable Player award, are desperate to deliver on the long-awaited promise of a team-building blueprint known as The Process. Meanwhile, the Celtics have used the slogan “unfinished business” to pay tribute to coming one step closer to a championship last season, when they lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
An early exit from either the 76ers or the Celtics would have qualified them if they bounced out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals, but it could be a summer of change. But the victory will be a tectonic shift.
“Honestly, I don’t want to be with another group for Game 7 in Boston,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “I know we will rally. We’ve been united on the road all year long.”
On Thursday, Tatum recovered from his struggles. He missed 13 of his first 14 field goal attempts, and the wasted time continued into the fourth quarter. He said his teammates kept giving him positive reinforcements. keep rebounding. Please keep it. Please keep going. keep shooting.
Celtics first-year coach Joe Mazura went one step further.
“I love you,” Mazzura recalled telling him. “That’s a pretty strong statement.”
Tatum’s first 3-point shot of the game gave the Celtics an 84-83 lead. Another one was sunk 39 seconds later. He made four 3-point shots at 4 minutes and 14 seconds towards the end of the game, turning the arena into a mausoleum. He had 19 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
“We trust him,” Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “He’s our man, and he’s proven he can be trusted in moments like that. I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind. How many shots did he make in his first third quarter?” It doesn’t matter if he’s out, he’ll finish the game for us.”
Tatum, who was named to the All-NBA First Team for the second straight season, is not lacking in confidence.and Walk-off interview with ESPN After Thursday’s game, he called himself “humbly one of the best basketball players in the world.” After he made 5-of-21 field goals, it was pretty impressive.
“I think it’s a character trait that tells you when you’ve only had one shot, when things don’t go your way, you have to be the same person with the same morals.” he later said. , It’s the same character above and below. And I kept telling myself so. I believe in myself “
Tatum therefore gave Mazura at least a few days. Mazura, who served as an assistant under Ime Udoka last season, resigned from the team just days before training camp started after the Celtics suspended Udoka for unspecified “violations of team policy.” Appointed interim coach. The Celtics untagged Mazura in February and signed a contract extension.
But the pressure on the 34-year-old Mazura is only heightened during the playoffs, especially this series. The Celtics lost Game 1, even though Embiid was sidelined with a knee sprain. In Game 4, the Celtics were hit by a poor shot near the end and lost in overtime. (Mazura later apologized to his players for forgetting to use another timeout.) And in Game 5, the Celtics were booed by home fans for a lethargic basketball run and lost.
Ahead of Game 6, Mazura made the long-overdue change of starting defensive center Williams in place of Derrick White, a move that the team’s starting point guard Marcus Smart also made. supported. In addition to blocking two shots and impacting countless players, Williams had 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Like all of us, Joe is learning,” said Smart, who had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. “I know he gets killed a lot, it’s a given. He needed to make some adjustments, but he did it, and all you can ask for is That’s all – that he remains in the best possible shape.”
Tatum said how he and Mazura relied on each other throughout the season.
“I know you have a lot of questions and doubts,” Tatum said. ’ We are working on this issue together.”