1. At this time of year, we talk a lot about “survive and advance”. The Boston Celtics split that into two parts. They survived in Game 6 and they advanced in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
After a back-and-forth first half, Boston thoroughly dominated the second half. By the midway point of the third quarter, the game was a laugher, and the party was on in TD Garden.
The Celtics don’t make anything easy on themselves, but they do tend to come through more than they don’t. They’ll need to do it twice more to realize the ultimate goal of the season.
Will the roller coaster continue to be fun, terrifying and exhilarating all at once? Yes. And at the end, hopefully we’ll all be asking if we can do it again.
2. These Takeaways are going to feature a lot of Jayson Tatum. Anyone expecting any differently is likely to be sorely disappointed. Tatum was simply transcendent in Game 7. Here are the numbers:
51 points on 17-of-28 shooting, including 6-of-10 on three-pointers
13 rebounds (game-high)
5 assists (team-high)
Let those breathe for a moment…you have a pretty big smile on your face, don’t you? Let’s go over how it happened.
When Tatum hit Joel Embiid with the hesitation dribble early, it felt like we might be headed for a special game:
When he dropped in the one-legged Dirk Nowitzki fadeaway, a special game was definitely inbound:
A couple of different times when things got sideways for Boston in the last two games, they went to Tatum in the post. Against smaller players, this has to be a weapon for Tatum:
When Tatum is feeling good, even a decent defender like Tobias Harris has no chance:
Tatum was already having an outstanding half, but when he hit this pullup, it was time to start thinking about an all-time game. If the pullup is falling, there is nothing you can do with him:
This shot against Joel Embiid at the end of the first was a sign of what was to come after the break:
3. In the second half, Jayson Tatum went soul-snatching and took the life out of the Sixers early. And he did it by mercilessly hunting the MVP.
Boston came out of the break looking to attack Joel Embiid. When Tatum blows by Embiid here, and P.J. Tucker’s help is late, there’s no one to protect the rim:
This time, Embiid got back into the paint. No worries, Tatum takes it outside and works until he gets the side-step triple:
After the 76ers missed a shot following the timeout, Tatum worked to get Embiid again. This time, it was a one-dribble pullup right in Embiid’s face:
With Embiid defending from somewhere in the greater Philadelphia area (this was a poorly played zone most likely), Tatum was free and clear to pull up off the Al Horford screen:
Embiid is running on fumes here. Philadelphia wants to set up a trap, with Tobias Harris trailing over the screen. But Tatum zips right by Embiid before the MVP can even set the angle for the double-team:
No dribble. 50-piece. Soul snatched. Series over:
4. As last year’s playoffs wound down, teams started forcing Tatum to be a passer more often. He struggled with that role, and said it was a focal point of his offseason workouts.
Over the course of this regular season and playoffs, Tatum seems to have figured a lot of that part of the game out.
This play came after the flagrant foul was called on James Harden for smacking Jaylen Brown in the face. Joe Mazzulla clearly took the review time to draw up this set and Tatum delivered with the lob to Rob Williams:
A little later, Tatum drew two in pick-and-roll and left it for Williams to finish again:
Tatum is now content to draw double-teams on the perimeter now and to get the ball cycling. That led to this find from Al Horford to Jaylen Brown:
Tatum has also gotten pretty good at running the break as the passer. This is a good job to pull the defense to him, before zipping it to Malcolm Brogdon for the layup:
5. Jaylen Brown got the Celtics going early, as is often how it goes. Brown’s first bucket was a tone-setter in a sense. He was quicker to the ball than the Sixers and it got him a layup:
Boston has gotten a ton of mileage out of Brown cutting out of the strongside corner, while Marcus Smart finds him through the backdoor. Philadelphia has seen it a few times now and De’Anthony Melton did a good job blowing it up. The good news? Brown and Smart just flowed into a DHO for a three instead of forcing the back-cut play or fully resetting the action:
After getting hit in the face, Brown was done messing around. His on-ball defense on James Harden was terrific. What was really exciting was Brown stayed locked in off-ball, as well. That led to plays like this:
6. The third quarter was the thing dreams are made of for the Celtics. It was a throwback to last year’s Boston team.
The 76ers scored just 10 points on 3-of-21 shooting. Boston also forced six turnovers, including a shot-clock violation.
Led by Jayson Tatum, the Celtics scored 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 8-of-12 from behind the arc.
For all intents and purposes, the game was over after 36 minutes. Philadelphia never made another real run and looked like they were just playing things out over the final 12 minutes.
Boston set the tone late in the first half and then they played all the right notes in the third quarter to send the Sixers home.
7. Al Horford did all of the things that make him a special player in this game. His defense against Joel Embiid all series was solid (at worst), but exceptionally good in Game 7. Horford just knows how to make Embiid uncomfortable. Even when Embiid scores, he almost always has to really work for it against Horford.
And Horford contributed on offense too. By now, you know we love big-to-big passing here in the Takeaways:
Horford didn’t take many shots, but this was a big one. He sprinted the floor and got to his spot before Embiid could get back and then gave Boston the lead:
This play, more than any other, was a sign of how hard Horford makes Embiid work to get his shots up. Early in games, when the MVP has more lift, he’ll hit some of these. As the game goes along, and Embiid tires, Horford pounces:
8. After a big statistical Game 6, Marcus Smart played a bit more of an understated Game 7. But he made two shots, one late in the first half and one early in the second half, to kind of keep the Celtics offense moving around Jayson Tatum’s brilliance.
Tatum accepts the double-team here and finds Smart slipping out of the screen. Instead of trying something crazy, Smart keeps things super simple and takes the short pullup to tie the game:
After a Tobias Harris three tied the game to open the second half, Smart bailed Boston out with this late-clock fallaway. Philadelphia would never tie or lead again:
9. File this one away for the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and possibly NBA Finals. All of the teams Boston could still play, from the Miami Heat to the Denver Nuggets to the Los Angeles Lakers, mix in a fair amount of drop coverage. Malcolm Brogdon’s pullup jumper is going to be a key weapon for the Celtics the rest of the way:
10. For the third time in the last four seasons, it’s Celtics vs Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The first matchup was in the bubble in 2020. The next one was just a year ago, with Miami holding homecourt advantage. This time around, Boston has homecourt advantage.
It feels poetic that Boston dispatched a rival with and MVP-level big man by winning a Game 6 on the road and a Game 7 home blowout two years in a row. It feels just as poetic that Miami is there waiting in the East finals.
We’ll have a lot more to come on this series over the next couple of days. For now, let’s enjoy that we’re here again. It wasn’t a lock and it got scary at times, but we’re here.
Just like a roller coaster, after the terrifying parts, the fun begins. And we’re all ready to ride again starting on Wednesday.