Celtics Jayson Tatum overcomes his own bad game to force

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum overcomes his own bad game to force Game 7 – The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA — At the end of one of the strangest games of his career, the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum smacked the ball onto the field in the dying seconds. The sound of those hard dribbles — each a percussive crack — seemed to fill the Wells Fargo Center as thousands of 76ers fans tried to make sense of what had just happened in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

How was all this possible? How did the 76ers miss an opportunity to secure a place in the Conference Finals for the first time since 2001? How had the Celtics used such a simple change – adding Robert Williams to their starting line-up – to bolster their defense? And after spending most of his evening making erratic jump shots, how did Tatum ultimately save his team’s season?

“For 43 minutes I had to listen to them tell me how bad I was,” Tatum said of fans. “It felt kind of good to see everyone getting up from their seats and leaving early.”

A weird series full of weird games will make it – because why not? — after the Celtics crushed the 76ers with a 95-86 win on Thursday and forced a Game 7 in Boston on Sunday.

Both teams are now primed to win. These are not fledgling, above average franchises. The 76ers are desperate to fulfill the long-awaited promise of their team-building plan known as “The Trial,” with Joel Embiid, who recently received his first NBA Most Valuable Player award, taking center stage. The Celtics, meanwhile, use the “unfinished business” slogan, a nod to how close they came to victory last season when they lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.

An early exit for either the 76ers or the Celtics — and exit from the playoffs in the conference semifinals would be qualification — could result in a summer of change. However, a win would be seismic.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t want to go to the seventh game in Boston with any other group,” said 76ers coach Doc Rivers. “I know we will gather. We are on the road all year round.”

Tatum recovered from his own difficulties on Thursday. He missed 13 of his first 14 field goal attempts, a period he was futile well into the fourth quarter. His teammates, he said, continued to give him positive reinforcement. rebound further. Keep defending. Pass on. Keep shooting.

Joe Mazzulla, the Celtics’ first-year coach, went one step further.

“I love you,” Mazzulla recalled when he told him. “That’s a pretty strong statement.”

Tatum’s first 3-pointer of the game gave the Celtics an 84-83 lead. 39 seconds later he sank another. In the final of the game, he made four 3-pointers (4:14) and turned the arena into a mausoleum. He finished the game with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists.

“We rely on him,” said Malcolm Brogdon of the Celtics. “He’s our type. And he has proven that he is reliable in those moments. I don’t think anyone doubts that. It doesn’t matter how many shots he missed in the first three quarters. He will finish the game for us.”

Tatum, selected to the All-NBA first team for the second straight year, isn’t lacking in confidence. in one Walk-off interview with ESPN After Thursday’s game, he described himself as “humbly one of the best basketball players in the world.” It was quite a statement after shooting 5 of 21 from the field.

“I think that shows character that you call: Tell yourself that when you’ve only got one shot,” he later said, “and things don’t go the way you want and you have to be the same person with the same morals.” be.” , the same character, whether up or down. And I’ve said that to myself over and over again. I believe in myself.”

Accordingly, Tatum gave Mazzulla a reprieve — at least for a few days. Mazzulla, who was Ime Udoka’s assistant last season, took over as the team’s interim coach days before the start of training camp when the Celtics suspended Udoka for unspecified “violations of team policy.” The Celtics removed Mazzulla’s interim contract in February and committed him to a contract extension.

But the pressure on 34-year-old Mazzulla only increased in the playoffs — and particularly during this series. There was Game 1 that the Celtics lost, although Embiid was out with a knee injury. There was Game 4 the Celtics lost in overtime after forcing a poor shot in the closing seconds. (Later, Mazzulla apologized to his players for failing to take advantage of one of his remaining timeouts.) And then there was Game 5, which the Celtics lost because they played basketball listlessly and were booed by their home fans.

Ahead of Game 6, Mazzulla made a long-overdue change, fielding Williams, a defense-focused center, in place of Derrick White — a move the team’s starting point guard Marcus Smart endorsed. In addition to blocking two shots and influencing countless others, Williams had 10 points and 9 rebounds.

“Joe is learning, just like all of us,” said Smart, who finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. “I know he’s been killed many times, and rightly so. He’s had to make some adjustments and he’s done that and that’s all one could ask for – that he continues to be the best he can be.”

Tatum described how he and Mazzulla leaned on each other throughout the season.

“I know there are a lot of questions and doubts,” Tatum said, “and I’ve often said to myself, ‘I have you, I have your back.’ We’re in this together.’”