Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 14: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics helps up Jaylen Brown #7 after a play against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter in game seven of the 2023 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at TD Garden on May 14, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Celtics’ 112-88 Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals will probably be mostly remembered for the party that it became. The crowd was in a frenzy for most of the afternoon as Jayson Tatum set the NBA all-time Game 7 scoring record, and the Celtics’ punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in a row and fifth time in the last seven years.

Again, those will be the lasting memories from this one – but the game wasn’t exactly a feel-good story from the start. The Celtics actually trailed 29-23 in the first quarter, and were down by as many as nine points well into the second.

  • Sometimes, the turning point in a game isn’t apparent until after the clock hits 0:00. It doesn’t always smack you in the face – even if it is literally a smack in the face.

    With 8:26 to go in the second quarter, the Sixers led 35-27. They were on an 8-1 run, and seemed to be on the precipice of taking full control of the game. The crowd was fading.

    That’s when De’Anthony Melton blocked a Jayson Tatum shot, creating a fast break for James Harden going back the other way. Looking back on it, that block may have been the high point of the Sixers’ afternoon.

  • As Harden went up for the layup he threw an elbow at the face of defender Jaylen Brown – who recently stopped wearing a protective mask after suffering a facial fracture injury in late January. Brown remained down after the play and ended up with a bloody lip and cotton in his nose. The rest of the Celtics team seemed to take exception to the play, with Marcus Smart pleading to the official that Harden “cannot keep doing this,” referring to leading with his elbow.

    The result seemed to be a unifying charge for the entire Celtics roster. Brown stayed in the game (after getting a bit of a cleanup from the training staff) and hit both free throws of what ended up being called a flagrant foul on Harden. That kicked off a 10-2 run for the Celtics, which helped them regain the lead.

    Asked about the play after the game, Brown said he felt it not only fired up him and his team, but the fans as well. “Nothing like a shot to the face to wake you right up,” he said. “Sparked the Garden.”

    From there, Philly’s composure started to deteriorate. That led to another moment – also involving Brown – that proved pivotal.

  • With 6:50 to go in the second, towards the end of that 10-2 run, the Sixers still led 35-33. Tobias Harris missed a three point shot, and the ball came awkwardly off the rim careening towards the corner in front of the Sixers’ bench. Brown and Harden started clawing past each other to try and get to the ball, resulting in Brown actually falling into the Sixers’ bench.

    As Brown tried to get up and run back up the floor, Georges Niang grabbed his knee and attempted to slow him down. Brown took exception to the grab and turned towards the Sixers bench, where referee Scott Foster stepped in and awarded technicals to both players.

    “The intensity was just high. First it was a loose ball. Me and James was fighting for it. I think I got away with maybe a foul on James, but I fell into the bench. I just think with the intensity of the game and emotions flying around, I think he [Niang] just thought, like maybe let me just try to grab him and slow him down a little bit,” Brown recalled after the game. “I don’t think Niang is a bad guy or anything. I work out with him in the off season. I just think he just got caught up in the intensity of the game and made a play and I responded to it.”

  • If the Harden elbow was the turning point, the Niang grab was the point of no return. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers cited both when asked after the game where he felt things went wrong for his team.

    “I thought we were playing so well. We trusted and the ball was moving and then we had those – I think it was three or four turnovers in a row,” he said. “One was a flagrant and then I think [Joel Embiid] turned it over and James had a lay up that the ball kind of slipped out of his hand. That led to a flagrant. I think we’d go up ten on that. And after that we never played right again.”

    The Celtics took that momentum and never looked back, and now will try to carry it into the Eastern Conference Finals where they meet the Miami Heat for the second year in a row. That series begins on Wednesday at TD Garden. Coverage can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the Sports Hub BetMGM Celtics Radio Network starting at 8 p.m. ET.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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