PHILADELPHIA — At the top of one of many stranger video games of his profession, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics pounded the ball towards the courtroom as the ultimate seconds elapsed. The sound of these exhausting dribbles — every a percussive thud — appeared to fill Wells Fargo Center as 1000’s 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 potential? How did the 76ers blow a chance 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 leap pictures, in the end preserved his workforce’s season?
“For 43 minutes, I had to hear them inform me how unhealthy I used to be,” Tatum mentioned of the followers. “So it type of felt good to see everyone getting out of their seats, leaving early.”
An odd collection stuffed with unusual video games will go the space — 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 usually are not younger, overachieving franchises. The 76ers are determined to fulfill the long-awaited promise of their team-building blueprint often known as the Process, with Joel Embiid, who just lately 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 once 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 really like you,” Mazzulla recalled telling him. “That’s a reasonably 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 ultimate 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 pictures 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, the most effective basketball gamers on the earth.” It was fairly an announcement after he shot 5 of 21 from the sphere.
“I believe that exhibits character that you simply name inform your self that if you’ve solely hit one shot,” he mentioned later, “and issues aren’t going your manner, and you have got to be the identical particular person with the identical morals. , the identical character whether or not you are up or down. And I stored telling myself that. I imagine in myself.”
(*7*), Tatum gave Mazzulla a reprieve — for at the least a few days. Mazzulla, who was an assistant below Ime Udoka final season, took over because the workforce’s interim coach a couple of days earlier than the beginning of coaching camp when the Celtics suspended Udoka for unspecified “violations of workforce insurance policies.” The Celtics eliminated Mazzulla’s interim tag in February and signed him to a contract extension.
But the strain on Mazzulla, 34, has solely mounted within the playoffs — and through this collection, specifically. There was Game 1, which the Celtics misplaced although Embiid was sidelined with a sprained knee. There was Game 4, which the Celtics misplaced in time beyond regulation after they compelled up a poor shot within the closing seconds. (Mazzulla later apologized to his gamers for neglecting to use certainly one of his remaining timeouts.) And there was Game 5, which the Celtics misplaced thanks to a listless show of basketball that had their dwelling 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 workforce’s place to begin guard, endorsed. In addition to blocking two pictures and affecting numerous others, Williams had 10 factors and 9 rebounds.
“Joe’s studying, similar to all of us,” mentioned Smart, who completed with 22 factors, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. “I do know he is been killed loads, rightfully so. He wanted to make some changes, and he did that, and that is all you’ll be able to ask for — for him to simply proceed to be the perfect that he might be.”
Tatum described how he and Mazzulla had leaned on one another all through the season.
“I do know there’s plenty of questions and doubts,” Tatum mentioned, “and I’ve advised me plenty of occasions: ‘I’ve bought you, I’ve bought your again. We’re on this collectively.’”