Celtics survive and advance, will face Cleveland in ECF
Two free throws from Terry Rozier with 9.8 seconds remaining proved to be the difference for the Celtics in their 114-112 win, holding off a ferocious Philadelphia comeback and sealing a 4-1 series win that sees Boston face Cleveland for the second straight year in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 76ers had a chance to win the game, having possession with just 2.4 seconds remaining, but couldn’t get a shot off, Marcus Smart’s steal sealing the series win and setting up a rematch of last year’s conference finals matchup.
Joel Embiid was unlucky to not get to the line with just 12.5 seconds remaining, taking heavy contact from Boston’s Aron Baynes that forced the missed shot before having the ball bounce off his leg and end in a 76er turnover.
Following Rozier’s free throws, Philadelphia still had life after a J.J. Redick three-pointer with less than four seconds remaining but it wasn’t enough as the Celtics grinded out the victory.
The Celtics experience shone late, outscoring the 76ers 9-3 in the last 1:27 of the fourth quarter, handling the late-game pressure better than Philadelphia – a constant throughout the series.
Jayson Tatum led Boston with 25 points, recording his seventh consecutive game with 20 plus points, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points, shooting three-for-four from behind the arc.
Embiid tried valiantly, scoring 27 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
11 of those points came in the third quarter and helped turn a seven-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
Despite efforts from Embiid and Dario Saric, the latter also scoring 27 points, it wasn’t enough for the young 76ers to force a Game 6 and extend the series.
The rematch of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals will feature the same teams but will be markedly different from last season’s incarnation.
Boston returned just four players from last year’s outfit while Cleveland has just five.
The Celtics have multiple scoring options in Tatum, Rozier and Brown, while the Cavaliers are led once again by LeBron James.
Kevin Love is a much greater focus of Cleveland’s offence this year, particularly following his strong output in their four-game sweep of Toronto, but the Cavs rely on a greater cast of role players to get the job done compared to last year.
Game 1 starts in Boston on Monday, both sides having almost four full days to prepare for the matchup in what promises to be a hard-fought affair.