BOSTON — The Celtics turned to a rookie Wednesday to make sure they would not end up on the wrong end of history.
With Drew Bledsoe cheering on Terry Rozier and the Celtics on the baseline next to Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, it was rookie Jayson Tatum who led the Celtics into the Eastern Conference finals this weekend against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Tatum scored the go-ahead layup with 22 seconds left and finished with 25 points and Jaylen Brown added 24 as the Celtics eliminated the Sixers with a heart-pounding 114-112 win in Game 5 at a raucous TD Garden.
Joel Embiid lost control of the ball with 10.8 seconds left and the Celtics inbounded the ball to Rozier, who hit both free throws. After a three by Philadelphia, Marcus Smart hit one of two free throws with two seconds left and Philadelphia’s desperation heave fell into Smart’s hands to end the game. The Celtics will host the Cavaliers this weekend in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden.
Click here for a full box score of Game 5.
Coming into Wednesday’s game, teams that held 3-0 leads in best-of-seven series were 129-0, including the wins by New Orleans in the first round and Cleveland in the second round this postseason.
Sixers big-man Joel Embiid made a name with his game, his mouth and his social media account throughout the series. He said the Philadelphia crowd was louder after Game 1. He said Terry Rozier was “lucky” leading into Game 5. And he wore a t-shirt after Game 4 that read “History will be re-tweeted” on the back.
After a coming off the bench in the last three games, Jaylen Brown scored 24 points in his return to the starting lineup in place of Marcus Smart. Smart returned to his more familiar role on the second unit. Both were important in the opening 12 minutes. Brown got into his offensive rhythm early, hitting his first two shot attempts.
Smart entered the game five minutes in and immediately made an impact with several hustle plays and a pair of first-quarter steals.
Early on, the Sixers continued their dominance in the paint that they showed in Game 4, outscoring Boston 16-12 in the first quarter.
The Celtics countered, thanks to balanced scoring and careless Philadelphia ball-handling that resulted in five turnovers, allowing Boston to finish the first quarter with a 25-24 lead.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) May 9, 2018
For the first 23 minutes of the first half, it was back and forth. The game featured 17 lead changes and seven ties, with neither team leading by more than four points. Then the Sixers entered their traditional Bermuda Triangle of the final 60 seconds of the first half. Just as was the case in Game 2, the Sixers melted. There were rushed shots and shooters left wide open.
Aron Baynes nailed a corner three (his 7th of the series) with 56 seconds remaining to make it 56-52 Boston. Baynes had six total threes in his entire career entering this series. Jayson Tatum then collected a rebound and went the length of the court untouched for a layup to make it 58-52. JJ Redick then took an ill-advised, off-balanced three with 24 seconds remaining, allowing the Celtics more than enough time to organize after a Brad Stevens timeout. Rozier drained his third three of the half at the buzzer, ending an 8-0 run and capping a 19-6 spurt to end the half and give Boston all the momentum and a 61-52 lead heading to the break.
Terry beats the halftime buzzer! 😱 pic.twitter.com/G0YL8GRmem
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 10, 2018
Despite looking sluggish offensively early in the third quarter, the Celtics continued to put the pressure on the Sixers in the third quarter, who continued to come unraveled.
Joel Embiid shoved Aron Baynes under the basket. Baynes embellished the shove by falling down but it created a technical on Embiid, who was serenaded by “Embiid sucks” chants during Baynes’ two free throws. Embiid encouraged the fans during the chants and the sellout crowd obliged.
After the Celtics went up 78-67 with just over four minutes to go in the third, the Sixers scored seven straight.
With 11:28, Ersan Ilyasova drained a 27-foot three to tie the game, 85-85. Jaylen Brown answered with a corner three that put Boston back up, 88-85. The two teams then went back and forth in a classic matchup befitting of the NBA’s most prolific postseason rivalry.
Ilyasova was big, hitting a pair of shots that put the Sixers up, 94-90. The Celtics took advantage of nine Philadelphia fouls in the first five minutes of the quarter to respond. Boston scored the next 10 points for a 100-94 lead, capped by Rozier’s layup with 5:27 left, forcing a Brett Brown timeout. Two Ben Simmons free throws with 5:16 left ended the spurt.
Dario Saric drained a three with 3:29 left to put the Sixers up, 103-102. A Ben Simmons layup with three minutes left made it, 105-102, and capped a 11-2 Sixers run. After a Simmons layup, Tatum hit a pair of free throws with 1:50 left to make it 107-105 but Saric came back with a layup. Tatum found Horford for a alley oop dunk and it was 109-107 Philadelphia with 1:15 left.
Marcus Smart’s putback of a missed Tatum layup tied the game at 109-109. Tatum’s layup with 22.9 seconds left put Boston ahead, 111-109.
Horford grabs the steal and Rozier finishes on the break! pic.twitter.com/LIwysA50IO
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 10, 2018