Jayson Tatum scored 51 points, the most in a Game 7 in NBA history, and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 112-88, on Sunday to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
One game after missing 14 of his first 15 shots only to wake up in the fourth quarter, Tatum got the fast start the Celtics needed. He scored 25 in the first-half roundtrip and 17 more in the third quarter as Boston turned a 33-10 three-point lead into a riot.
The Celtics, who lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last year, will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, which begin Wednesday in Boston.
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Tatum added 13 rebounds and Jaylen Brown scored 25 points for the Celtics, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the best-of-seven series to keep their hopes of an unprecedented 18th NBA championship alive. Tatum was taken out of the game with three minutes left to a standing ovation from the crowd, which soon erupted into a «Beat the Heat!» sing.
Newly crowned NBA MVP Joel Embiid scored 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting, and Tobias Harris scored 19 for Philadelphia. The Sixers lost in the conference semifinals for the third straight year and the fifth time in six seasons; they haven’t gotten further since reaching the NBA Finals in 2001.
Tatum started 0-for-6 in a Game 5 loss and missed 14 of his first 15 shots from the ground in Game 6 before breaking out for four 3-pointers in the final 4:14 to force the deciding game seven.
He picked up where he left off, scoring Boston’s first basket and 11 points in the first quarter, 14 more in the second, and outscoring the Sixers on his own, 17-10, in the third. The 33-10 lead in the third was the lopsided fourth in a Game 7 since at least 1997.
Brown began the game wearing the black mask he has worn since breaking a bone in his face before the All-Star break. He took it off and soon absorbed an elbow to the face from James Harden, who he called a flagrant foul.
He continued without the mask but finished half with cotton in his left nostril. Brown also played to the advantage, making both free throws and then a steal and a layup as Boston went on a 9-0 run to erase a 35-26 deficit.
Brown also dove into the Sixers’ bench to save a ball, then had a word with the bench after Georges Niang grabbed his leg and prevented him from returning to the court. Both players received technical fouls.
His teammate Robert Williams followed up the commotion with a layup that tied the score 35-3.
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Sixers coach Doc Rivers is 6-10 in seventh games. The 10 losses is five more than any other coach in the NBA and three more than Mike Babcock and Bruce Boudreau of the NHL. His teams are 6-16 in their last 22 chances to shut out an opponent in a playoff series.
«It’s an honor to continue taking teams to these places,» he said before the game. «There are people, your friends, who look at you like, ‘Why do you like this?’ And this is what it’s all about. You put yourself out there because you want to win. And you know if you do, you have to put yourself in these situations over and over and over again. And it’s worth it. It’s worth it. And that’s what I tell my boys».
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Tatum is the sixth player since 1997 to score 25 or more points in the first half of a Game 7. The last was Luka Doncic, who had 29 against the Clippers in the first round of the 2021 playoffs. Paul Pierce scored 26 for the Celtics against Cleveland in the 2008 second round. … Philadelphia’s 10 points were tied for fewest amount in any quarter of Game 7 in the shot clock era.