By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Between the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, all three rising stars had great series. They all played great overall in Game 5, too. But in the end, it came down to the Celtics’ ability to produce in the clutch – and Embiid’s lack thereof.
According to ESPN Stats & Info shortly after the C’s win on Wednesday night, Embiid missed both shots with a chance to tie or go ahead in Game 5. He went 0-for-8 in such situations over the course of the season, the most without a field goal of any player in the NBA.
To be fair, Embiid dominated for the balance of the game. He scored 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting with 12 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. He’s going to be a force in this league, provided he stays healthy. But as far as clutch situations go, Embiid will need to reverse course as his career progresses – or he’ll have a tough time living down this particular photo:
Fair or not, Embiid’s missed shot and turnover with a chance to tie Game 5 with 10 seconds left could be the defining image of his series:
JOEL EMBIID IS A BUM! CELTICS BALL! pic.twitter.com/lWPK8DU0JH— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) May 10, 2018
The Celtics, meanwhile, got some amazingly clutch performances out of their most promising young talents, particularly Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart. Tatum scored 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, sinking the go-ahead layup with just 22.5 seconds left off an assist from Smart. The 20-year-old (!) rookie also went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
Brown scored five points in the fourth quarter and 24 for the game, going 10-for-13 from the field. And Smart had his patented Marcus Smart Game™, shooting just 3-for-8 but making big-time plays in big-time situations. He finished with three steals, including his game-sealing interception of a long Ben Simmons inbound pass to snuff out any chance of a last-second basket for the Sixers. That he made the play seconds after making a free throw that he was trying to miss was perfectly Smart-ian.
Danny Ainge has been as impressed as anyone with his young players’ clutch performances, even though he’s the one that drafted them. He told Toucher & Rich on Thursday that not even he thought they’d be as great as they’ve been this early in their young careers.
“Certainly it’s been fun and unexpected,” Ainge said. “To me, for those guys to play well is one thing. But for them to win against other top players in the league is another thing. There’s a lot of young players who can go out there and put up numbers … but winning playoff games is tough.
“For those guys to go out and contribute at such a level and find ways to win has been very impressive.”
Even if Embiid and the Sixers found a way to win Game 5, they still faced a severe uphill battle to win two more and do what’s literally never been done in an NBA playoff series. Ultimately, Wednesday night came down to the young stars in green & white making more plays when it really mattered than the ones in blue.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.