BOSTON – The Sixers couldn’t get a break on Sunday afternoon. And they weren’t particularly close.
The Celtics cruised past the Sixers in Game 7 of their second round playoff series with a 112-88 victory at TD Garden. They will play Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
Once again, the Sixers failed to advance past the 2nd round of the playoffs. They haven’t done this since 2001.
Jayson Tatum led the Sixers with 51 points, an NBA high in Game 7. Jaylen Brown added 25.
Tobias Harris had 19 points and Tyrese Maxey had 17 points.
Joel Embiid scored 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting. James Harden scored nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, seven assists and five turnovers.
Here are some observations on the Sixers offense in their Game 7 loss:
A suitable Tucker start
Both teams are stuck with the same starters in Game 6.
At first, it looked like Boston’s double-major lineup would repeat its success from Thursday. The Sixers started 1 for 6 from the floor, missed open jumpers, and paid for two early defensive breakdowns. Tatum avoided his fourth straight offensive start, threw a tentacle on his first field goal attempt, and Robert Williams’ third slam lifted the Celtics to an 8-2 victory.
Thanks to PJ Tucker, the Sixers summoned a strong response. Tucker surprisingly scored eight points late in the clock in a 13-2 Sixers lead on two corner threes and layups. In Game 6, the Celtics made it clear that they appreciated Williams’ possession in the paint and weren’t too concerned when Tucker took a three. The 38-year-old forward needed to be decisive, confident and productive. He has finished his work.
Tucker finished the first quarter with 11 points, his second-highest scoring total in the regular season.
Tatum shines so bright.
The Sixers scored their first goal without Embiid to get past the Celtics by three points.
DeAnthony Melton was excellent late in the first and early in the second quarter. He hit two shots, scored a rebound and a driving layup and dished out six rebounds on both ends of the floor. The Sixers posted their first seven fast break points of the afternoon.
However, just as the Sixers took a 35-26 lead, Boston responded with a 9-0 run. Neither of the Sixers’ stars were good during that stretch; Harden went 1-for-6 from the floor, Embiid 3-for-11. Harden drew a flagrant 1 foul by hitting Brown in the face with his right hand. Following that game, the game in general seems to be a touch smoother and more intense. Tatum and Brown were also effective hitters. Tatum mixed things up well on his drives, including a spin move and a left layup that lifted Boston to a 42-39 edge.
To close out the first half, the Sixers were determined to get Embiid a touchdown on every possession. The MVP turned up his physicality late in the 2nd quarter and while he drew five foul shots, his decisions on double-teams weren’t always sharp and Al Horford played sound isolation defense.
After the Embiid transition, Tatum sank a step-back three. He had 25 points in the middle, and the Celtics held a three-point lead. At that level, Boston’s four-time All-Star wing was easily the outstanding player of the day. At the last rumble, there was more of a landslide.
He will be stuck at 58 forever
Embiid notched his lone assist on the Sixers’ opening drive of the third quarter, dishing the ball to Harris for a third down.
The Sixers offense was much worse for the next few minutes. Embiid, who is playing his sixth straight game on a sprained right knee, was often thinking from the post and elbows to read Boston’s defense and wait for helpers to be fully engaged. That didn’t often generate good shots, however, and the Sixers’ collective momentum took a hit in the middle of the game.
Tatum continued to rush both well-contested and comfortable shots, including a tough three on Embiid and a pull-up three in the Sixers’ zone. He deserves credit for sinking a bunch of jumpers that no defense could stop.
Still, the Sixers’ efforts to salvage the situation and counter Boston’s third-quarter threat were poor. He didn’t come off an abundance of decent looks, but the team lost its offensive structure and composure in a season-long 8:02 to 1:39 third down. Harden committed two turnovers and couldn’t regain any offensive rhythm. As Embiid hit the backboard for a desperation three, he looked at Harden after a possession that ended in a shot-clock violation and shrugged.
Like last year, they played six ugly games and lost at home to the Heat, the team’s final game of the season is poor for all involved. Any Game 7 loss would have been painful, but the fourth quarter Sunday was no contest at all.
It’s hard to know yet how the postseason will play out, but none of the major questions ahead are ones Sixers are excited to consider. Head coach Doc Rivers once again failed to get his team past the 2nd round. Harden has a .6 million player option. Harris is currently under a four-year, five-year, $0 million contract. Embiid is 29 years old, MVP, and already an all-time Sixers great, but he still hasn’t played in the conference finals.