BOSTON – The Boston Celtics don’t do easy, no matter how the basketball gods align things for that to happen.
Boston missed free throws and lay-ups repeatedly, but managed to make all the plays down the stretch required and in doing so, they escaped with a 114-112 win to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year where they will face a well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Jayson Tatum led Boston with 25 points, Jaylen Brown – back in the starting lineup – had 24 points with Marcus Smart chipping in with 14 points off the bench.
The Sixers were led by Dario Saric and Joel Embiid who each had 27 points. Ben Simmons tallied 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Philadelphia which lost the best-of-seven series, four games to one.
Tatum, who tallied 20 or more points for the seventh straight playoff, scored what appeared to be the winning basket with 22 seconds to play that made it a 109-107 game.
But eventually, it was Terry Rozier making a pair of free throws that proved to be the game-winning points.
The fourth quarter featured both teams playing with the kind of urgency you would expect in a closeout game.
Philadelphia, which the latter stages of the second quarter and all of the third playing catch-up, took the lead in the fourth quarter, 90-88, following a 3-pointer by Robert Covington early in the fourth.
Boston battled back, seemingly had the game won until a 3-pointer by J.J. Redick made it a one-point game with 3.8 seconds to play.
Smart was fouled with 2.4 seconds and missed the first free throw resulting in a collective moan from the TD Garden crowd.
He made the second and moments after that, he intercepted a long pass down court and threw it up in the air as time expired on the game and with that, the Sixers season.
Brown didn’t waste any time attacking the Sixers defense and finding success, scoring six of Boston’s first 10 points.
After Boston opened the game with a 10-7 start, Philly went on a 7-0 run to lead 14-10 before Brad Stevens called a time-out.
Boston and Philadelphia continued to wage a tightly contested battle in the first which ended with Boston ahead 25-24.
The second quarter was more of the same with neither team showing any signs of pulling away until an Aron Baynes 3-pointer put Boston ahead 56-52 which was Boston’s largest lead of the game at that point. Baynes tallied 13 points along with nine rebounds.
From there, Boston would close out the quarter with five straight points which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Rozier which put the Celtics ahead 61-52 at the half.
The momentum gained by Boston to close out the second quarter carried over into the third, with a Brown 3-pointer giving Boston a 66-56 lead, the first double-digit lead for either team which led to a Sixers time-out with 9:08 to play in the third.
Boston continued to surge ahead with Aron Baynes – yes, Aron Baynes – helping lead the charge.
One of the more critical plays came in the third quarter when Baynes gave Joel Embiid a pump-fake, drove into the lane and was fouled. Baynes let out a demonstrative yell afterward that apparently wasn’t music to Embiid’s ears.
So Embiid pushed him down, resulting in a technical foul.
Al Horford made the technical free throw and Baynes followed up by making both of his free throws on the foul which gave Boston a 12-point lead, its largest in the game.
But the Sixers rallied back to cut Boston’s lead to just four points following a 3-pointer by Saric that led to Brad Stevens calling a time-out with 2:54 to play in the third and the Celtics up 78-74.
The Sixers were able to get a little closer, but Boston managed to go into the fourth clinging to a slim 83-82 lead as Philly closed out the quarter with a 15-5 run.