Thursday, July 25, 2024

Sixers at Celtics: Jayson Tatum scores 51 points as Sixers snap worst Game 7 loss

BOSTON — The Sixers couldn’t break through until Sunday afternoon. They are not particularly close.

The Celtics cruised past the Sixers in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series with a 112-88 victory at TD Garden. They will play the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.

Again, the Sixers failed to advance beyond Round 2 of the playoffs. They haven’t done so since 2001.

Jayson Tatum led the Sixers to 51 points, the most ever in an NBA Game 7. Jaylen Brown added 25 points.

Tobias Harris had 19 points and Tyrus Maxey had 17 points.

Joel Embiid scored 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting. James Harden posted nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, seven assists and five turnovers.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ blowout Game 7 loss:

A great tucker start

Both teams stuck with the same starters as in Game 6.

Early on, it looked like Boston’s double-major lineup could replicate its success right away from Thursday. The Sixers started 1 for 6 from the floor, missed open jumpers and paid for two early defensive breakdowns. Tatum threw down a dunk on his first field-goal attempt, avoided a fourth straight nightmare start, and Robert Williams III put the Celtics up 8-2 with a slam.

Thanks to PJ Tucker, the Sixers summoned a strong response. Tucker made it 13-2 with two corner threes during the Sixers and a curious, surprising cut late in the shot clock. In Game 6, the Celtics made it clear they valued keeping Williams in the paint and weren’t too worried about Tucker taking threes. The 38-year-old forward should be decisive, confident and productive against that approach. He finished the job.

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Tucker finished the first quarter with 11 points, his second most in a full game during the regular season.

Tatum shines brightly

The Sixers outscored the Celtics by three points in their first game without Embiid.

De’Anthony Melton played well late in the first quarter and early in the second. He swat two shots, hit a put-back and a driving layup, and helped convert sixes on both ends of the floor. The Sixers posted their first seven fast break points of the afternoon.

However, once the Sixers took a 35-26 lead, Boston responded with a 9-0 run. None of the Sixers’ stars were great during that stretch; Harden went 1 for 6 from the floor, while Embiid was 3 for 11. Harden also picked up a flagrant 1 foul for hitting Brown in the face with his right hand when the Sixers got up for a point guard attempt. Following that game, the game generally took a turn for the worse and more intense. Tatum and Brown were also effective offensive linemen. Tatum mixed things up nicely on his drives, which included a spin move and a lefty layup that gave Boston a 42-39 edge.

To end the first half, the Sixers were determined to get Embiid touches on basically every possession. MVP turned up his physicality, drawing five foul shots late in the second quarter, and his decisions weren’t always sharp when double-teamed and Al Horford played sound isolation defense.

After an Embiid turnover, Tatum took a step back for a third. He had 25 points at halftime and the Celtics had a three-point lead. At that point, Boston’s four-time All-Star wing was easily the most impressive player of the day. By the final flurry, it was an even bigger landslide.

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He was permanently stuck on 58 runs

Embiid had his only assist on the Sixers’ opening drive of the third quarter, kicking the ball to Harris for a catch-and-shoot 3.

The Sixers’ next few minutes of offense were significantly worse. Playing his sixth straight game with a sprained right knee, Embiid was often deliberate with his touches from the post and elbow to read Boston’s defense and wait for assistants to fully commit. That often didn’t produce the best shots, however, and the Sixers’ collective pace waned midway through the game.

Tatum hit both well-contested and comfortable shots, including a tough three over Embiid and a pull-up triple against the Sixers zone. He deserves credit for sinking jumpers that no defense could block.

However, the Sixers’ efforts to salvage the situation and counter Boston’s third-quarter surge were poor. Plenty of decent looks didn’t go down, but the team lost its offensive organization and composure during a season-killing scoreless stretch that went 8:02 to 1:39 in the third. Harden committed a couple of turnovers and was unable to regain any offensive rhythm. After a possession that ended with a shot-clock violation, Embiid hit the backboard with only three in frustration, and he shrugged at Harden.

When the Sixers played an ugly Game 6 last year and lost to the Heat at home, the team’s season finale reflected poorly on everyone involved. Any Game 7 loss would have been painful, but the fourth quarter was completely non-competitive Sunday.

It’s hard to know exactly what the season will look like yet, but none of the major questions the Sixers will have to consider are pleasant. Head coach Doc Rivers was unable to lead the team into the 2nd round again. Harden has a .6 million player option. Harris is now four seasons into a five-year, $0 million deal. Embiid is 29 years old, an MVP, and already an all-time Sixers great, but he has yet to play in the Conference Finals.

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