PHILADELPHIA — At the tip of one of many stranger video games of his profession, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics pounded the ball towards the court docket as the ultimate seconds elapsed. The sound of these onerous dribbles — every a percussive thud — appeared to fill Wells Fargo Center as hundreds of 76ers followers tried to make sense of what had simply occurred in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
How was any of it attainable? How did the 76ers blow a possibility to safe their first journey to the convention finals since 2001? How had the Celtics seized on such a easy change — sliding Robert Williams into their beginning lineup — to enhance their protection? And how had Tatum, after having spent most of his night chucking up wayward soar photographs, finally preserved his staff’s season?
“For 43 minutes, I had to hear them inform me how dangerous I used to be,” Tatum mentioned of the followers. “So it type of felt good to see all people getting out of their seats, leaving early.”
An odd collection filled with unusual video games will go the gap — as a result of why not? — after the Celtics put the clamps on the 76ers in a 95-86 victory on Thursday, forcing a Game 7 on Sunday in Boston.
Both groups are constructed to win now. These should not younger, overachieving franchises. The 76ers are determined to fulfill the long-awaited promise of their team-building blueprint often called the Process, with Joel Embiid, who not too long ago collected his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award, working as their focus. The Celtics, in the meantime, have been utilizing the slogan “unfinished enterprise,” a nod to how shut they got here to profitable all of it final season after they misplaced to the Golden State Warriors within the NBA finals.
An early exit for both the 76ers or the Celtics — and getting bounced from the playoffs within the convention semifinals would qualify — may lead to a summer time of change. A win, although, could be seismic.
“Honestly, I would not need to go to Game 7 in Boston with some other group,” 76ers Coach Doc Rivers mentioned. “I do know we’re going to rally. We’ve rallied all yr lengthy on the street.”
On Thursday, Tatum rallied from his personal struggles. He missed 13 of his first 14 field-goal makes an attempt, a stretch of futility that prolonged into the fourth quarter. His teammates, he mentioned, continued to feed him constructive reinforcement. Keep rebounding. Keep defending. Keep passing. Keep taking pictures.
Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics’ first-year coach, went one step additional.
“I like you,” Mazzulla recalled telling him. “That’s a fairly highly effective assertion.”
Tatum’s first 3-pointer of the sport gave the Celtics an 84-83 lead. He sank one other one 39 seconds later. He made 4 3-pointers within the recreation’s remaining 4:14, turning the sector right into a mausoleum. He completed with 19 factors, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.
“We depend on him,” the Celtics’ Malcolm Brogdon mentioned. “He’s our man. And he is confirmed that he is dependable in these moments. I do not assume there’s any doubt in anyone’s thoughts. It would not matter what number of photographs he missed within the first three quarters. He’s going to end the sport for us.”
Tatum, a first-team all-NBA choice for the second straight season, has no scarcity of confidence. In a walk-off interview with ESPN after Thursday’s recreation, he referred to himself as “humbly, among the best basketball gamers on the earth.” It was fairly an announcement after he shot 5 of 21 from the sphere.
“I feel that exhibits character that you just name inform your self that while you’ve solely hit one shot,” he mentioned later, “and issues aren’t going your manner, and you have got to be the identical individual with the identical morals , the identical character whether or not you are up or down. And I stored telling myself that. I consider in myself.”
(*7*), Tatum gave Mazzulla a reprieve — for no less than a few days. Mazzulla, who was an assistant below Ime Udoka final season, took over because the staff’s interim coach a couple of days earlier than the beginning of coaching camp when the Celtics suspended Udoka for unspecified “violations of staff insurance policies.” The Celtics eliminated Mazzulla’s interim tag in February and signed him to a contract extension.
But the stress on Mazzulla, 34, has solely mounted within the playoffs — and through this collection, particularly. There was Game 1, which the Celtics misplaced despite the fact that Embiid was sidelined with a sprained knee. There was Game 4, which the Celtics misplaced in time beyond regulation after they pressured up a poor shot within the closing seconds. (Mazzulla later apologized to his gamers for neglecting to use one among his remaining timeouts.) And there was Game 5, which the Celtics misplaced thanks to a listless show of basketball that had their house followers booing them.
Before Game 6, Mazzulla made a long-overdue change by beginning Williams, a defense-minded heart, instead of Derrick White — a transfer that Marcus Smart, the staff’s place to begin guard, endorsed. In addition to blocking two photographs and affecting numerous others, Williams had 10 factors and 9 rebounds.
“Joe’s studying, identical to all of us,” mentioned Smart, who completed with 22 factors, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. “I do know he is been killed so much, rightfully so. He wanted to make some changes, and he did that, and that is all you may ask for — for him to simply proceed to be the most effective that he will be.”
Tatum described how he and Mazzulla had leaned on one another all through the season.
“I do know there’s quite a lot of questions and doubts,” Tatum mentioned, “and I’ve informed me quite a lot of instances: ‘I’ve received you, I’ve received your again. We’re on this collectively.’”