PHILADELPHIA — After watching the Boston Celtics close Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 14-3 run to walk out of Wells Fargo Center with a 95-86 victory and push the matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers to a Game 7 on Sunday, the NBA’s newly minted Most Valuable Player, Joel Embiid, said his team will be ready when this series resumes in 72 hours.
“We know what we got to do,” said Embiid, who finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in 40 minutes. “We’ve gone on the road and we’ve won. It’s not going to be easy in that environment, but it’s the same thing. Everybody has to step up, starting with me. I got to be more aggressive, as far as shooting and making sure I get my teammates looks and everybody else has to do their job and everybody has to show up.
“But it’s going to be fun. Game 7 … that’s why you play, for these types of games. Tonight was pretty tough, but we know how much better we could have been. … We’ve got to respond, and got to go win.”
It briefly appeared that Philadelphia would be able to win Game 6 when Jayson Tatum — who at that point was 1-for-14 from the field — committed a clear-path foul on Tyrese Maxey that, after Maxey hit a pair of free throws, made it 83-81 Philadelphia with just under six minutes to go.
But instead of closing the game out, the 76ers closed up shop, missing nine consecutive shots over the next several minutes before a meaningless bucket by deep reserve Jaden Springer with 22 seconds remaining capped the scoring.
In the interim, Tatum buried four 3-pointers by himself to save both his game and Boston’s season, with Philadelphia being left to regret its stagnant late-game offense and rue a missed opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in a generation.
While Embiid went 3-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter, the rest of the 76ers combined to go 2-for-14.
“I don’t think we trusted very well,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We had a lot of wide-open 3s. We didn’t make them. I didn’t like how we played overall offensively down the stretch. Got to play through the big fella more. Didn’t think the ball went there [enough].”
It was a rough box score overall. Despite Boston committing 18 turnovers and Tatum’s awful game through the first 42 minutes or so, the Celtics improved to 35-2 between the regular and postseasons when they hit at least 40% of their 3-point shots thanks to Marcus Smart (22 points), Derrick White (9) and Malcolm Brogdon (16) going a combined 10-for-19 from deep.
As a team, Philadelphia went 8-for-34 from beyond the arc, including James Harden missing all six of his shots.
Across the six games in this series, Harden — after going 4-for-16 in Game 6 — is a combined 9-for-44 in Philadelphia’s losses, compared to going 37-for-61 across the 76ers’ three wins.
Harden, though, said he wasn’t going to lose faith in himself after an off shooting game and expressed frustration over a lack of foul calls.
“I’m not going to look at my shooting percentage,” said Harden, who finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists, but had 5 turnovers in addition to going 4-for-16 from the field.
“I did a lot of really good things offensively. … They packed the paint, so they’re forcing us to make shots. It’s not a hard game. I’m not going to force it.”
But Boston has forced Philadelphia into a Game 7, after the 76ers played a nearly flawless game in Boston on Tuesday night to reclaim home-court advantage for a second time in this series.
Part of the story of Thursday’s game was Boston going back to its two-big lineup with Robert Williams and Al Horford — the grouping that powered the Celtics to the NBA Finals last year but hadn’t seen the court for a single possession in this year’s playoffs before Game 6.
And while Williams was plus-18 in Game 6, Embiid said the lineup change didn’t make an impact.
“It didn’t affect us,” Embiid said. “We missed a lot of wide-open looks tonight. I’ll take them. Got to keep shooting them. There’s a reason why they went to that double big, to have someone to protect the rim and he was pulling over every single time. So that’s where we got to have that trust and keep moving the ball and finding guys and trusting each other and keep taking those shots. I thought we had a lot of good opportunities and we just got to convert them.”
They’ll get the chance to Sunday, when Embiid and the Celtics head to Boston for the third Game 7 of his career. The first two — in the conference semifinals in 2019 in Toronto, and 2021 at home against Atlanta — resulted in losses.
Now, he and 76ers will get another chance at advancing to the East finals, and at beating Boston in a playoff series for the first time since 1982.
“We knew we had to go through this team,” Rivers said. “Nothing’s changed. They all were saying that. It wasn’t a down locker room. I mean they were disappointed they lost the game, but you didn’t have a locker room of anybody feeling defeated or anything like that. I can guarantee you that.”