Jayson Tatum missed his first six 3-pointers before he drilled two straight clutch ones late in the game that pushed the Celtics past the Philadelphia 76ers 95-86 on Thursday night to send the Eastern Conference semifinals back to Boston for Game 7.
The defending conference champs are in familiar territory. Boston trailed 3-2 last season in the second round against Milwaukee before it won Game 6 on the road and the clincher at home.
Game 7 is Sunday.
Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points in the regular season, never stopped shooting even as the misses kept coming. He missed 14 of his first 15 shots overall from the floor and his ineffectiveness was a key reason the Celtics couldn’t hold a 16-point lead.
With a shot at their first conference final since 2001 at stake, the Sixers slogged through the first half before Joel Embiid flashed his MVP form and rallied the Sixers to a fourth-quarter lead.
Tyrese Maxey hit two free throws with 5:25 left for an 83-81 edge.
And that was it for Philly.
Tatum buried one 3 for the 84-83 lead and a second that made it 87-83 and put the Celtics in firm control of Game 6.
Embiid and Tyrese Maxey each scored 26 points for the 76ers.
76ers coach Doc Rivers has blown three 3-1 series leads over his playoff career. While the 76ers never got that far ahead, this is their second loss at home in the series and they seemingly had seized momentum in the fourth quarter.
Tatum instead stuck it to the 76ers with one final 3-point dagger for a 95-84 lead.
After Embiid’s pull-up jumper tied the game 81-all, the 76ers didn’t make a bucket over the final 6:13 of the game
Tatum missed all 10 shots, including five 3-point attempts, in the first half as the Celtics led by seven. Tatum has said he may need surgery on his left wrist in the offseason in the wake of a hard fall. Whatever the cause of his shooting ails, he found the cure in the final 12 minutes and the East champs still have life.
Tatum finished with 19 points on just 5-for-21 shooting but the final stat line mattered little after he keyed the 14-3 run that kept the Celtics’ conference repeat hopes alive under rookie head coach Joe Mazzulla.
Just like in Game 3 when the Sixers squandered the momentum off Embiid’s MVP ceremony, the 76ers again failed to keep a packed house as rocking as they were at tipoff. The Celtics took a fast 15-3 lead and that silenced the crowd and discombobulated the Sixers.
The Celtics led 40-26 because -- in part because of three 3s from Malcolm Brogdon -- but an ineffective half from Embiid, James Harden and Tobias Harris. Embiid and Harris started 1 of 7 and Harden 2 of 8 and yet, the deficit could have been much worse.
The Sixers steadied themselves somewhat -- creaky Harden surprised everyone with a rare, thunderous dunk -- and the Sixers had life down only 50-43 at the break.
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