BOSTON — Jaylen Brown used his public platform to deliver a clear message to Celtics fans ahead of Sunday afternoon’s game. He said TD Garden’s energy was perfectly fine going into the team’s home games during the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Philadelphia 76ers.
On Sunday, Brown got what he wanted in Game 7. The game was noisy in the beginning and the second half. The crowd cheered with each dunk, 3-point shot, defensive stop and offensive rebound.
By the time Boston’s Jayson Tatum stood near the center circle late in the fourth quarter, in the final moments of his best performance and career-best game, he asked the fans for more noise. They were happy to do so.
The crowd was still cheering as the Celtics exited the court with a 112-88 victory, making the best-of-seven series decision and ensuring Boston’s championship dream lived on.
Tatum, an All-NBA first-team selection, didn’t play perfect basketball all season, but he was exceptional on Sunday, scoring an NBA-record 51 points in Game 7. Brown added 25 points in the win. The Celtics led with a maximum of 30.
“That’s the best time for me, the fun time,” Tatum said, adding that he tried to channel his love of childhood games. “When you go out and relax and think about when you were at the YMCA or something, the game opens.”
A crushing loss would certainly make the offseason uncertain for the third-seeded 76ers, who had title hopes. But Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who recently won his first NBA Most Valuable Player award, struggled in Game 7, making 5-of-18 field goals and scoring just 15. Sixers guard James Harden scored just nine points.
“The best team in the league,” Embiid said of the Celtics. “They are very talented and have a lot of great basketball players. We lost seven games to them, so for the most part I thought we played hard.”
The Celtics, the No. 2 seed in the East, pushed the game out of reach in the third quarter with back-to-back 3-point shots from Brown and Tatum. The fourth quarter saw a party masquerading as the end of a closely contested playoff series.
“When JT play like that, it’s going to be very difficult for us to win,” Brown said of Tatum.
In the process, the Celtics will face the No. 8-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, which begin Wednesday in Boston. The Heat, who made it through the play-in bracket, defeated the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and eliminated the Knicks in six games in the conference semifinal series. Boston beat the seventh-seeded Atlanta Hawks in six games in the first round.
The Heat have a star player in Jimmy Butler, who seems to be improving his level of postseason play year after year and is a formidable two-way player who rarely takes off.
Of course, the Celtics have an explosive star in Tatum, but he struggled against the 76ers. On Sunday he was the best player in the building. He made 17-of-28 field goals, 6-of-10 3-pointers, had 13 rebounds and five assists.
“We just dealt with the ups and downs of the series,” Celtics coach Joe Mazura said. “We were never too emotionally high or too emotionally low. We were able to keep our emotional togetherness intact.”
The 76ers, who missed their chances, are leading the series 3-2 and had a chance to come back at home on Thursday. Tatum made his first 14 field goal attempts in that game, missing 13 of them. But the Celtics had a solid defense and Tatum picked up form in the closing stages to extend the series with a 95-86 win.
“To be honest, they put us in a tight spot,” Tatum said, adding: “And I was relieved, because our season could have been over.”
Game 7 is essential, but a lot seemed to hang on it for both teams. For the Celtics, the loss represented a clear setback from last season’s run to the NBA Finals after a six-game loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Progress is rarely linear, however, and the Celtics faced an unusually difficult road this season. It was an unexpected coaching change before the start of training camp, a season-ending injury to Danilo Gallinari before he even played a game, and a familiar lack of defense. very.
Fair or not, Sunday’s game for the 76ers was set up as something of a referendum on the process, the team-building exercise that was one of the cornerstones of acquiring Embiid in the 2014 NBA Draft. But now was the time to go for the playoffs.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the pregame pressure and anticipated the importance of pushing key players “to the brink of fatigue.”
Embiid was quiet for the final few minutes before Tipp dribbled around the halfcourt circle. He picked up a few free shots before handing the ball to teammate Tyrese Maxsey.
The rest of Embiid’s afternoon was tough. Harden’s case was somehow bad. The 76ers have now made the playoffs six games in a row and failed to advance to the conference finals.
“I thought James was coming to play, but he really did,” Rivers said of Harden. “I thought he was trying to watch the game, I thought he played downhill a lot. It was the right decision tonight where he passed the ball, but we weren’t there. I got nothing from
The series was riddled with uneven performances. Topping that list was Harden, who quickly disappeared after scoring 45 points in Game 1, making 5-of-28 total field goals in two losses. He resurfaced in Game 4, scoring 42 points, but was again negative in Games 5 and 6. So the question was which version of Harden would be in Game 7.
He seemed to lose his grip on the ball trying to make a layup as he struggled early in the second quarter. Harden, caught in the air, swung his elbow, but caught Brown in the face.
“Nothing wakes me up like being shot in the face,” Brown said.
Harden got the whistle blown for a flagrant foul. Brown made both free throws and Tatum lobbed Robert Williams for a dunk. Rivers cited this flagrant foul as a turning point.
“We never played right again after that,” Rivers said.
As the Celtics continued their chase, Brown fell in front of the bench, playing with a cotton swab in his left nostril to stop bleeding from the collision with Harden. As Brown pulled himself together and was about to run to the upcourt, 76ers Georges Niang reached out of his folding chair and grabbed Brown’s left leg.
Brown yelled at Niang and both players were called for technical fouls. At the time, Boston was actually on the back foot. But the fans were loud, and the Celtics tried to maintain their stance.