Jayson Tatum scored a game high 24 points, and the Boston Celtics defeated the 76ers 101-98 Saturday night to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The rookie from Duke recorded his fifth consecutive 20 point game Saturday night, breaking a Celtics’ rookie playoff record set by Larry Bird in 1979. Tatum knocked down 11 of 17 shots, picking up 24 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Despite the 24 point outpouring from Tatum, the Celtics struggled from the field to open Game Three, scoring just three points, connecting on one of seven shots, in the first three and a half minutes of the game. Ben Simmons, on the other hand, was determined to put his porous Game Two behind him. He did so early, scoring four points in the first 44 seconds of play, outproducing his Game Two numbers by 400 percent in less than a minute. Simmons finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
While the Celtics were struggling from the field, the 76ers were unable to create separation early, taking just a three point lead, 6-3, in the opening few moments. Boston found it’s stroke midway through the first quarter, grabbing a 14-2 run to propel the Celtics to a 17-8 lead. Of those 14 points scored, Jayson Tatum collected nine of his 24 points. During that stretch, the 76ers went cold from the field, failing to score for over four and a half minutes, producing just two points during a seven minute stretch.
Philadelphia didn’t help itself from beyond the arc, either, early in the first quarter, mising seven consecutive triples to open the frame. But, just as the Celtics did earlier in the quarter, the 76ers would find themselves on a run that pushed them in front. The 76ers scored 12 consecutive points, jumping ahead of the Celtics 20-17 as the quarter drew to a close. The packed Wells Fargo Center erupted on the final bucket of the stretch, a long J.J. Redick three, that gave the 76ers the lead. The triple from Redick was one of three he connected on from beyond the arc, as the veteran sharpshooter finished the contest with 18 points on on 6-15 shooting.
Joel Embiid was a force in the first quarter, pacing the 76ers with eight points in the first twelve minutes of action. He played 41 minutes in Game Three, finishing 10-26 from the field, scoring a team-high 22 points. Embiid also collected 19 rebounds, including six offensive board, in the loss.
At the end of one quarter, the 76ers led by one, 20-19.
Out of the break, and dating back to the final bucket of the first quarter, the Celtics used a 7-0 to regain momentum and take a four point lead, 24-20. That consecutive points run was part of a larger 11-2 streak that extended the Boston lead to six, 28-22. The 76ers went ice cold from the field during this stretch, failing to connect on a field goal for over four minutes before Dario Saric found twine from deep, cutting the lead to three, 28-25. This outburst by the Celtics quieted a once raucous Wells Fargo Center to a dull murmur.
The Celtics pushed the tempo and outscored the 76ers 7-0 directly after the Saric made three, extending their lead to a game high ten, 35-25. The 76ers scored just five points over a near six minute stretch before Ersan Ilyasova hit back-to-back threes for Philadelphia, cutting the lead to seven, 38-31. These two triples were part of a much larger 22-5 Philadelphia that near the end of the second frame that helped the 76ers grab a seven point lead, 50-43. During that stretch, the 76ers connected on four of six three point attempts, including a pair of threes from Dario Saric. Saric scored eight of his 11 game points in the second quarter.
Philadelphia scored just one more point in the final minute and change of the half, as the Celtics inced closer using a 5-1 spurt, but the 76ers held onto a halftime lead, 51-48.
As has been the case through much of the series, one team found itself on the positive end of a quarter opening run. For the second straight night, the third quarter stretch belonged to the Celtics, who used a 10-2 run to grab a three point advantage, 60-57. During that run, Terry Rozier found his touch, connecting for five straight points. Rozier finished the third quarter with nine points. He finished the game with 18 points despite a poor performance from beyond the arc. Rozier hit just two of his eight triple attempts in the contest.
Almost immediately after the 76rs scored five consecutive points to take a small two point advantage, 62-60, the Celtics went on a 9-2 run of their own to reclaim the lead, 69-64. During that stretch, the 76ers were streaky once more from the field, failing to score for over three minutes and connecting on just one field goal over a near five minute stretch.
The third quarter was marred in poor offensive performances by both teams, as the Celtics didn’t register a point over a three minute stretch following the 9-2 push. This allowed the 76ers to crawl to within one, 69-68, which is where the quarter stood after 12 minutes of play. The Celtics outscored the 76ers 21-17 in the third frame to grab the lead heading into the final quarter.
Dating back to the third quarter, the Celtics’ shooting woes continued, as a Jayson Tatum bucket snapped a near four and a half minute scoreless streak. The 76ers took advantage of this drought, collecting six of eight points to pull ahead 74-71.
The two teams went back and forth, matching each other bucket for bucket through a majority of the final quarter. Those buckets didn’t come easy, however, as the two teams combined for just two points off free throws from Ersan Ilyasova over a near four minute field goal drought. During the scorless streak, the Celtics one-upped the 76ers three point failures of the first quarter by missing nine consecutive threes in the fourth. Terry Rozier ended the Celtics’ run of misery, taking a two point lead in the process, 83-81. Joel Embiid returned the favor with an emphatic dunk on the other end of the floor to tie the game once more.
J.J. Redick knocked down an off balance, falling away long two pointer and Marco Bellinelli hit a pair of free throws to recapture the lead, 87-85. On the ensuing possession, Jaylen Brown kissed one off the glass to tie the game at 87. With five seconds to play, and possession on the near side, the 76ers turned the ball over off an inbounds pass that set Jaylen Brown up for a second consecutive layup, giving the Celtics a two point lead. With one second left, Marco Bellinelli came off an Ersan Ilyasova screen, received the inbound pass, and launched up an awkward jumper that found the bottom of the net as time expired. His foot was one the line, so the bucket counted as two, and the 76ers and Celtics went into overtime tied at 89.
The overtime outing was the first playoff overtime game for the 76ers since May 1, 2005, when the 76ers and Detroit Pistons went into the extra frame.
Philadelphia jumped out to a 5-0 run on a long two from Marco Bellinelli and triple from J.J. Redick. Philadelphia led 94-89 when Jayson Tatum took over the Celtics’ offense, scoring five of the next seven points, cutting the 76ers’ lead to two points, 98-96. From there, it was Al Horford’s turn to engage as the primary scorer. He split a pair free throws to cut the lead to one, 98-97 before giving theCeltics the lead, 99-98 off an inbound pass that sailed over the head of the defending Robert Covington.
The 76ers used a timeout to draw up an inbound play, but Ben Simmons never found his intended target, as he was picked off by a charging Al Horford who was fouled driving to the net. Horford hit both free throws this time, extending the Boston lead to three, 101-98. Brett Brown drew up one final play from the sideline, a baseball style pass down the length of the court from Simmons to Bellinelli. Bellinelli was able to collect himself and put one dribble on the floor before chucking up a 30-foot bomb as time expired. The shot caught the back iron and hoped away from the net, and the Celtics defeated the 76ers 101-98.
The Celtics are now up 3-0 in the series, and will look to close out the 76ers Monday night in Game Four. History is now squarely on the Celtics’ side, as no team has ever lost an NBA playoff series after going up 3-0. In fact, only three teams in NBA history have ever forced a Game Seven after losing the first three games. The 76ers will attempt to make history one game at a time, as Game Four is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday night. You can catch all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com