NBA postseason: Jayson Tatum’s Comeback Forces a Game 7 with Title Odds on the Line

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NBA postseason: Jayson Tatum’s Comeback Forces a Game 7 with Title Odds on the Line

Jaylen Brown embraced his Boston Celtics teammate with a smile that belied the growing concerns about the long-term viability of their partnership on

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Jaylen Brown embraced his Boston Celtics teammate with a smile that belied the growing concerns about the long-term viability of their partnership on the court after Jayson Tatum overcame an effort that could have permanently tarnished his legacy to outscore the Philadelphia 76ers alone in the fourth quarter.

The All-NBA team survived a nail-biting 95-86 victory in Philadelphia to tie the Eastern Conference playoffs at three games each and force a Game 7 on Mother’s Day in Boston.

Tatum played incredibly awful for the opening 43 minutes of the game, which cannot be overstated. By the final quarter, when Tatum was having a meltdown, Boston’s 16-point lead from the first half was gone. Six minutes remained when the Sixers took an 83-81 lead thanks to a terrible transition turnover and an even worse clear-path foul.

With 4:14 remaining and his team trailing by two, Tatum was shooting just 1 for 14 from the floor when he climbed over the reigning MVP Joel Embiid for a corner 3-pointer. He connected with the goal for the first time since a ricocheted second-quarter layup, and on Boston’s following possession, he did so once again from 28 feet. Down the stretch, he hit two more 3s, including the game-winning shot in the last minute. Final score for the fourth quarter: Tatum 16, Sixers 13.

Tatum, who made 19-9-6 with two blocks and four steals, said, “It’s tough to believe in somebody when they only made one shot, but I know my guys believe in me until the clock hits zero.”

The future of Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, Tatum’s potential, Brown’s contract, and trade scenarios involving every player in the rotation were all topics of discussion during the offseason.

The Sixers are now under pressure, and their own leadership group has had a nightmare of a Game 7 experience. In his two previous attempts, Embiid has failed to win a Game 7, including a dismal defeat to the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals two years ago. Since leaving his backup position with the Oklahoma City Thunder to become a superstar, James Harden has shot 34.6% from the field and 14.3% from beyond the arc in four Games 7.

Then there is Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who has a record-low nine losses in 16 career Games 7. Since his L.A. Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in the 2015 Western Conference playoffs, he has dropped four consecutive Game 7s. His teams have lost six 3-2 series leads, and he has never won a road Game 7.

The Sixers are facing a slew of offseason questions just 48 hours after the team’s biggest victory in more than 20 years. If they lose, Rivers will probably be fired as coach. In free agency, Harden might choose to return to the Houston Rockets. And Embiid would have a record of 0-4 after the second round. After yet another early exit, how might he feel about Philadelphia’s chances of winning the championship?

Since Brown’s rookie year, the Celtics have gone 5-1 in Game 7s; their lone defeat came at the hands of LeBron James in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, when Tatum was just 20 years old. In order to get to the NBA Finals last season, they won both Games 7—one at home and the other in Miami.

They are aware of the result, and in Game 6, they once again become themselves. For the first time in these playoffs, Mazzulla started Robert Williams III alongside Al Horford in a double-big combination that caused havoc defensively in the playoffs of last year and during this past regular season. Midway through the second quarter, they had a 16-point advantage after building a 15-3 lead, and Williams contributed a team-high +18 in his 28 minutes of play.

Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon, and Derrick White, Boston’s trio of point guards, kept the Celtics in the game despite Tatum’s poor shooting and Brown’s shaky dribbling. They combined for 47 points (on 10-of-19 shooting from distance), 15 rebounds, and 10 assists. Tatum and Brown seem to be in for a tremendous night at a familiar moment and an electrifying atmosphere at home.

According to the history of the rivalry, the Celtics are 4-1 in Games 7 at home versus the Sixers, with an Andrew Toney explosion in the 1982 conference semifinals serving as the lone exception to the generalization that the home team triumphs 75% of the time.

Both Harden and Embiid have displayed signs of weariness throughout this second round, particularly in Game 6, when Harden shot 4 for 16 from the floor and missed all four of his fourth-quarter attempts while Embiid twice gripped his damaged right knee in discomfort. For the first time in this series, they will have two days off, and they have already won two of the three games at TD Garden. Their rival’s season might finish with an explosion of their own.

On Sunday, one side will leave devastated while the other will be the favorite to win the championship. When the ball is tipped in Boston, Game 7, the two most illustrious words in basketball, will enter a new chapter.