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Three takeaways from Tatum, Celtics running away from 76ers in Game 7

This was a close game for the first 24 minutes — Philadelphia led by six after one quarter and was down just three at the half — but there were already troubling signs for 76ers fans. James Harden has six points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first half, while Joel Embiid was 4-of-12.

In the third quarter everything fell apart for Philly, which had a 6:23 scoreless streak as Boston went on to win the quarter 33-10 and never looked back.

Boston advances to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat (starting Wednesday), while Philadelphia faces some hard questions.

Here are three takeaways from the game

1) Jayson Tatum played like an MVP candidate should

Jayson Tatum struggled in the first half for three straight games, shooting a combined 4-of-30 in those halves. It felt indicative of a team that only plays at its peak at points.

Sunday, with his team’s season in the balance, Tatum showed out and looked like the MVP — 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the first half. Then in the third quarter he outscored the entire 76ers team, 17 to 10.

He went on to score a Game 7-record 51 points for the game and looked every bit the All-NBA First Team player that he is.

Jaylen Brown played well and added 25 points.

In our Game 7 preview, we wondered which team’s stars would step up in the big moments. Boston acted like a team that had been there before.

Philadelphia on the other hand…

2) Embiid, Harden fall flat in biggest game of the season

Philadelphia got what it needed from P.J. Tucker. As they had in Game 6, the Celtics had Rob Williams guard Tucker, allowing Williams to roam off of him, and help on Embiid in the paint. The 76ers dared Tucker to shoot. He did and knocked down three 3-pointers from the corner on his way to 11 first-quarter points. It forced Williams and the Celtics to adjust.

Embiid and Harden did not take advantage of those adjustments and opportunities.

Embiid finished with 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting and was 0-of-7 outside the paint. For the first time in a couple of games he looked slowed by his sprained knee.

He still looked better than Harden, who finished the game with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting, plus he had costly turnovers and generally sloppy play.

Sometimes basketball is a simple game — if one team’s star players dramatically outperform the other team’s, it will only end one way. Embiid, Harden, and Doc Rivers — who now has 10 Game 7 losses in his career, twice as many as any other coach

As a side note, the 76ers’ George Niang got a technical foul for grabbing Jalen Brown’s knee — Brown was in the game chasing a loose ball then trying to get back in the play, Niang was on the bench — and should get a fine from the league for this.

3) Is Doc Rivers back with the 76ers? What about James Harden?

“We got an unfinished job,” Joel Embiid said postgame when asked about the future in Philly. “We haven’t won anything, and we got the chance to win. Going to seven games and having a chance to close it out at home, which we didn’t do, I still believe we have the chance to win”

There have been whispers of changes coming in Philly if they got bounced in the second round again. That may not be fair — they had the third-best record in the NBA this season, they just lost in seven games to the team with the second-best record — but change feels inevitable after that ugly and no-show of a Game 7 loss.

Doc Rivers’ seat is getting warm.

Rivers said after the game that he expects to be back coaching the 76ers next season, but added “no one’s safe in our business, and I get that.” That’s especially true for a coach who was not hired by this GM — Daryl Morey put together what he saw as a championship-worthy roster and after Sunday’s face plant he may want his own guy in that chair.

The other question is will James Harden return? He has a $35.6 million player option and after a strong regular season averaging 21 points and 10.7 rebounds a game, he is widely expected to opt out and test the market, looking for more years and security.

Rumors of Harden having an interest in a return to Houston — and that interest being mutual — have been running around the league all season. Those whispers will only get louder after this Game 7 effort and early team exit.

Harden was asked postgame what he is looking for in a team as a free agent, “I just want to have a chance to, obviously, compete.”

Harden was then asked about his relationship with Rivers. “Our relationship is okay.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Whether it’s one of those two or just a lot of bench player changeover, expect things to look a lot different next season in Philadelphia.