Boston Celtics advance to Eastern Conference Finals
After trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics completed the comeback and advanced to the Conference Finals.
In sports, there are certain moments that will be remembered forever — they are imprinted on the minds of those who can understand the gravity of the situation. Celtics player Jayson Tatum’s game seven performance against the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals may just become one of these immortal moments — a moment that will live vividly in the minds of all Boston fans.
After putting together one of the worst performances of the year in game five, the Boston Celtics looked like a shell of their regular season self. Holding a 3-2 series lead and heading back to Philadelphia for a series-clinching match-up, MVP Joel Embiid and the 76ers looked poised for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. However, the Celtics were not ready to roll over and concede to their rivals. Just as they have done all season long, they found a way to regroup and compete in the midst of chaos.
In game six of the series, the two teams were evenly matched — trading buckets and leads throughout the entire game. Tatum, who was a serious MVP candidate for a majority of the season, only notched three points through the first three quarters of the game. Frustrated with his performance on the offensive end, Tatum looked to be a menace on the defensive side of the ball, grabbing nine rebounds and rejecting a pair of shots. But as the law of averages dictates, Tatum was due for a hot streak, and he found it at the perfect time: the fourth quarter. As the game winded down, Tatum’s poor shooting woes turned around and he went off for 16 points in the final minutes of game play.
Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were able to take the offensive pressure off Tatum for the majority of the game. Smart was the serious game-changer in game six — his 22 points and full effort performance spurred the team to victory. Brown has been a consistent pillar all season long and tallied 17 points, four assists, and six rebounds in the match-up. Brown was recently named second team All-NBA, and his performance throughout the playoffs has done justice to this recent title. Tying the series at three games a piece, the two contenders were headed back to Boston for a highly anticipated game seven.
In the post game press conference of game six, Brown challenged Celtics fans to bring it all for the final game of the series: “Game seven, I expect — if you're there, or if you're not there, if you're in your home, if you're watching at a bar, if you're watching down the street at a friend's house, I don't care. I need you to be up, I need you to come with the energy, because we're gonna need every bit of it.” The challenge was not taken lightly by the fans.
At the start of game seven, TD Garden was rocking. The announcers struggled to compete with the atmosphere in the stadium. Brown’s challenge to the fans looked like a success. The first quarter felt disappointing compared to the energy of the crowd, and the 76ers took a 29-23 lead entering the second. During the second quarter, the tide of the game began to shift towards Boston: The Celtics held a narrow three point advantage heading into halftime.
Something must have happened in the Celtics locker room during the halftime break, because the third quarter was something out of a movie. Tatum, who had been playing a very respectable game up till this point, came out of the break on a mission — he connected on 17-28 shots from the field, scoring 51 points, and added 13 boards with five assists. Tatum’s masterclass set an NBA record for the most points scored in a game seven performance. Veteran big man Al Horford shut the reigning MVP down, allowing Embiid to score just 15 points in the winner-take-all match-up. Embiid’s partner James Harden only managed to score nine points.
A 33-5 run in the third quarter set the Celtics up for a commanding 112-88 victory. Tatum exited the game in the finals minutes and received thundering “MVP” chants from the crowd. Smart called Tatum’s performance a “movie” — a movie that will be a horror flick for Philadelphia fans for years to come.
In the other Eastern Conference semifinals, the Miami Heat defeated the New York Knicks to advance to the finals as the eighth seeded team. Miami’s upset against the Milwaukee Bucks put the league on notice, and they will have to travel to Boston to kick off the conference finals series. If the energy and intensity can stay high in the Garden, it will be hard for any opposing team to succeed against the Celtics.
Tatum has placed himself in elite company with this performance but the goal hasn’t changed: winning it all. After a tough Finals series last season, the Celtics are hell-bent on returning to the NBA’s biggest stage and finishing the job.