Jaylen Brown scored 24 points in his first start of the series, and the Boston Celtics defeated the 76ers 114-112 Wednesday night, eliminating Philadelphia from the NBA Playoffs.
A game after 76ers’ Head Coach Brett Brown made a shocking move to insert T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup, Celtics’ Head Coach Brad Stevens made a counter-move by starting Jaylen Brown for the first time in the series, shifting away from Marcus Smart. Brown was coming off the bench over the first four games of the series as he was still dealing with a hampering hamstring injury that he suffered in Game Seven of the quarter-finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The decision paid off for Brad Stevens as he scored the first four points for the Celtics on the evening, as the Celtics opened the frame 3-4 from the field. Browns finished 10-13 from the field, scoring 24 points and grabbing four rebounds.
The 76ers opened equally hot from the field, knocking down three of their first four shots as well. But as the quarter progressed, the Celtics cooled off as the 76ers remained on point, helping Philadelphia take a 7-0 run to grab a four point lead, 14-10. Over that stretch, the Celtics connected on just on field, a stretch that lasted over two and a half minutes. Much like the 76ers found success throughout Game Four in the paint, scoring 72 of 103 points from either the painted area or the free throw line, Philadelphia was dialed in from close to open the first quarter. They scored 14 of their first 18 points from the paint.
Ben Simmons drew a second foul early in the first quarter, sending him to the bench for the remainder of the period and into the second quarter. When Simmons exited the game, the Celtics grabbed five consecutive points to take a 5-0 run to collect a one point lead, 19-18.
As the first quarter drew to a close, the 76ers and Celtics each scored six more points, and after 12 minutes of play, Boston held a one point lead, 25-24.
Coming out of the break, the 76ers scored the second quarter’s first five points, recapturing a four point lead, 29-25. The 5-0 run became a preview of what was to come, as both teams found their grooves early in the second quarter. Over a 2:33 stretch, Boston and Philadelphia combined to knock down ten of 12 shots from the field, as the game fluctuated little in terms of lead, but greatly in terms of score. The 76ers led 31-29 prior to the outburst. They continued to lead by two after the scoring drive, but this time, led 42-40. Jayson Tatum and Dario Saric each missed just once over this two and a half minute burst.
Despite the miss, Dario Saric was a driving force during this run, scoring five of the 76ers 11 points, connecting on a deep three. Saric, who had been spotty at times during the series, came to compete in the series finale, playing 40 minutes and scoring 27 points on 8-14 shooting. Saric finished with 11 rebounds as well, as he was one of two 76ers who collected a double-double.
The other was Joel Embiid, who was sensational in the second quarter, particularly during the scoring barrage. Embiid collected all eight of his second quarter points during this run, as he finished the evening with 27 points of his own on 9-18 shooting. He grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds in the loss.
Shortly after, the Celtics recaptured the lead when Marcus Smart emerged off the bench. The Celtics used a 9-2 run to take a three point lead, 51-48. Of those nine points, Smart scored seven on his way to a game 14 points. Prior to his spurt, the Celtics were getting very little from their bench, as the starters scored all but four of their 44 points. Boston used this 9-2 run as part of a much larger 19-6 scoring barrage to end the half, one in which was concluded by a long Terry Rozier at the buzzer that sent the Boston Garden into a wild frenzy.
At the half, the 76ers trailed the Celtics 61-52.
Much like the start of the first half, it was Jaylen Brown who got the Celtics going in the second half, scoring the five Boston points of the third quarter. Shortly after, the 76ers collected five consecutive points to cut into the Celtics’ lead, nearly halving an 11 point to six points, 69-63. But after Joel Embiid was called for a technical foul for simply using his size brutishly down low, the Celtics used a 6-0 run of their own to grab their largest lead of the game, a 12 point advantage, 75-63.
Perhaps Embiid used his aggression in a controlled setting shortly after the technical foul, because he was dominate in the third quarter. Embiid finished with 11 of his 27 points in the third frame, as he was a menace to the Boston Celtics.
Despite Embiid’s powerful performance in the third, even he couldn’t keep the 76ers’ offense in rhythm all night. Philadelphia found themselves in the midst of a scoring drought that saw them connect on just one bucket in over three minutes of play. Despite the shooting woes, the 76ers did score five points over that run, all of which came from the free throw line. While the 76ers were getting to the foul line, they weren’t necessarily converting their chances into points. On the night, Philadelphia missed seven free throws, shooting just 77 percent from the line. In a two point game, those missed free throws were crucial points left on the board.
Soon after, however, the 76ers struggled ended, as Philadelphia found success from the field, going on a 7-0 run to take a 78-74 lead over the Celtics. That scoring stretch was part of a larger 15-5 run that ended the third quarter, helping the 76ers close within just one as the quarter came to a close, 83-82. The 76ers had 12 minutes of play to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The theme of the night was opening frame runs by Jaylen Brown, and the fourth quarter was no different, as Brown collected the first five points for the Celtics. But with the five points came a lead change, as the 76ers used an 8-3 run off a Brown three pointer to claim a two point lead, 90-88. Robert Covington knocked down a large three to grab that two point lead. The two point advantage was the first lead the 76ers claimed since they led 48-47 with just under four minutes to play in the second quarter.
The 76ers put the Celtics into the fourth quarter bonus just 2:02 into the frame, putting themselves in a precarious spot, as Boston would go to the free throw line for every foul recorded from there on out.
Despite the 76ers run to recapture their first lead in a quarter and a half, the offensive productivity would not last. From the 8:51-5:16 marks, the 76ers scored zero points, a drought of nearly four minutes. This freeze out allowed the Celtics to take a 10-0 run, recapturing a six point lead, 100-94. As quickly as the Celtics took the lead, they lost it due to the a quick surge from the 76ers. After giving up ten consecutive points, Philadelphia scored 11 of 13 points, taking a three point lead of their own, 105-102. But as the NBA so often proceeds, the Celtics returned the pendulum the other way, going on a 9-4 run, including scoring six straight, to retake a two point lead, 111-109.
Over the two Boston scoring runs, it was rookie Jayson Tatum who took control. Tatum scored ten of his game 24 points during the final 12 minutes of play. He finished the night 8-15 shooting, picking up four assists and three rebounds.
Trailing by two, the 76ers had possession with 19 seconds to play. Joel Embiid had two opportunities to tie the ball game, but was unable to connect on either shot. He grabbed two offensive rebounds, however, and the 76ers were able to retain possession off a Celtics’ timeout. Out of the timeout, the 76ers lost possession of a turnover, forcing Dario Saric to foul Terry Rozier. Rozier hit both free throws, extending the Celtics’ lead to four, 113-109.
On the ensuing Philadelphia possession, J.J. Redick scampered down the floor, connecting on a long three pointer to draw the 76ers within one, 113-112. Boston used a full timeout with just over three seconds to play. T.J. McConnell fouled immediately off the inbound pass, sending Marcus Smart to the line. Smart missed the first free throw, and intentionally attempted to miss the second, but the ball arced high off the rim and went in. The Celtics held a two point lead, 114-112, but the 76ers had a handful of seconds with possession of the ball. Ben Simmons walked slowly to the baseline, grabbed the basketball and set himself for the inbound pass. He lobbed the ball baseball style down the court, but the pass was intercepted by Al Horford, who launched it into the air, allowing the clock to run out.
With the loss, the 76ers fall to the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, where they’ll meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. The 76ers took a massive step forward in 2018, winning an additional 24 games from a season prior. The season included a 17 game winning streak, the longest in franchise history. The 76ers will return to the court in the fall of 2018!
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com contributor