Jayson Tatum let out a passionate roar after he landed on another 3-pointer halfway through the third quarter Sunday, along route to outscoring the Philadelphia 76ers in the period by himself.
“This is my s—,” he confessed.
Tatum scored 51 points in Game 7 to lead the Celtics to a 112-88 win and advance to the Eastern Conference playoffs. Tatum eclipsed Stephen Curry’s record of 50 points in Game 7 of the Golden State Warriors’ first-round series against the Sacramento Kings two weeks ago.
“It’s a movie,” said Celtics player Marcus Smart. “It’s a large film. The ability to just sit back, munch your popcorn, and watch.”
Tatum rebounded to one of the worst shooting nights of his career in Game 6 with one of the finest performances in franchise history. In Game 7, he scored or assisted on 62 points, outscoring the Sixers’ star tandem of Joel Embiid (15 points) and James Harden (nine points), who combined for 44 points.
According to ESPN monitoring statistics, Tatum scored all 51 points in the half court against five different defenders, including 17 points against Embiid, the 2023 NBA MVP. Tatum finished fourth in the MVP vote this season, a career high, but at the conclusion of the game, the sold-out crowd at TD Garden was chanting “MVP.”
Before the game, Tatum described Sunday as an opportunity for the Celtics to atone for their last loss in Boston, which drew boos from the home fans. Tatum struggled through the first three quarters of Game 6, shooting 1-for-13 before breaking out late.
“I was really excited for the moment, just to be able to come out and play today,” Tatum said after the game on Sunday. “It was definitely on my mind that I had played as poorly as I could for 42, 43 minutes.” “As we say around here, ‘it’s only up from here.’”
From the start of Game 7, it was evident he was prepared to reply. Tatum had 25 points in the first half after scoring 18 in the first halves of Games 4, 5, and 6.
“Going into Game 6 — it sounds crazy, but I was too locked in,” Tatum said. “I was too tense. I was too preoccupied with what I needed to accomplish. How many points do I need to get? It’s a historic occasion.”And now I felt more like myself. I was calm, smiling, and joking before the game. That’s when I’m at my best and having the most fun. I simply tried not to worry about the pressure or what everyone else might say. Just concentrate on the game and have fun.”
Despite this, the Sixers led after the first quarter and trailed 55-52 at halftime, remaining in the game despite the struggles of both of their stars. The Celtics then blew past Philadelphia in the third quarter, outscoring the Sixers 33-10 to put the game over of reach. Tatum scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, more than doubling the Sixers’ total and effectively putting the game out of reach.
When asked whether he’d seen a postseason performance like Tatum’s, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said just one sprang to mind.
“I’ve seen a few. “Unfortunately, it was in this building,” Rivers said. “And LeBron [James] was there.” That was the first time I’d seen a live performance like that, and I’m happy I haven’t seen many…. [Tatum was] incredible.”
The Celtics reached the conference finals for the second year in a row and the fifth time in the last seven.
“A team that we’re extremely familiar with,” Tatum said of the next game against Miami. “A very well-coached team that competes with the best and plays hard.” They defend, make plays, and figure out how to win games. It’ll be exciting; it’ll be really competitive, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Celtics won two straight games after falling down 3-2 in the series. It was similar to the predicament the Celtics faced in last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs, when Boston rallied from a 3-2 deficit to get to the conference finals.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Celtics have now won seven series while down 3-2, the most by any club in NBA history.
“You always come into a series with expectations of how it’s supposed to go, and that’s just not how the playoffs are,” said Celtics first-year coach Joe Mazzulla. “We just dealt with the ups and downs of a series.” Never experienced extreme emotional highs or lows. We had some hard spots, but we were able to maintain our emotional unity, which I believe is vital in the playoffs.”
After losing in the NBA Finals last season, the Celtics have relied on their postseason experiences to carry them through this season. The tagline “unfinished business” has been their rallying cry all season, and it was prominently shown on the video board before to Game 7.
With the other top seeds in the conference gone, the Celtics began as -500 favourites at Caesars Sportsbook to defeat the Heat (+380). As the last seconds of the fourth quarter passed, Boston supporters had already moved their focus to the next job at hand, shouting, “Beat the Heat.”
“We really locked in and stayed together,” said Celtics centre Al Horford. “[The Sixers] are a fantastic team.” That might easily have been a conference final, or if they were on the other side, a Finals match. They’re that excellent as a group. And you must give them credit. They make an excellent team. One team had to win, and we were only able to do so.”