It was a dogfight in Boston on Wednesday for Game 5, but the Celtics somehow managed to hold on for a 114-112 win over the Sixers to punch their return ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. They had to fend off a feisty Philadelphia team that scratched and clawed the full 48 minutes to try to keep their season alive.
It was the youth movement that led the way in Boston, as rookie Jayson Tatum led all Celtics scorers with 25 points, while Jaylen Brown gave his team a huge boost in his first start since returning from a hamstring injury with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown.
But they also needed some veteran assistance from Al Horford, who added 15 points, eight rebounds, and five steals and made several key plays down the stretch to help the Celtics hang on for the win, including this monster jam off the alley-oop from Tatum.
Fittingly, it was a wild finish to a crazy 48 minutes that included 21 lead changes and came all the way down to the wire. With the game tied at 109-109, Tatum somehow got free for an easy layup to give Boston a slight edge with 23 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Joel Embiid had a chance to tie it up but was unable to get this layup to fall over Aron Baynes, who may have fouled Embiid on the play although the referees didn’t make the call. Terry Rozier then snuck in and knocked the ball away from Embiid and off his leg to give the Celtics possession.
Embiid finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks. Ben Simmons added 18 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, but both he and Embiid betrayed their youth and inexperience at various points, including on the final possession when the Sixers had a chance to get off a potential game-winning shot, if Simmons hadn’t have launched the inbounds pass into the waiting hands of Marcus Smart (who had just split two free throws, failing to purposefully miss the second).
Dario Saric was fantastic in the losing effort for Philly, matching Embiid with 27 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-15 from the field, including a perfect 3-of-3 from downtown.
The game was close through the first two quarters until the Celtics used a 19-6 run to take a 61-52 lead into halftime, spurred in part by a corner three from Baynes (who is shooting 50 percent from long-range this postseason) and capped off with a Terry Rozier buzzer-beater from the top of the key. Baynes finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Rozier added 17, but struggled from the field as he shot just 4-of-15, including 3-of-9 from distance.
Horford proved once again why he’s one of the more underrated players in the NBA, keying a big 10-0 run midway through the fourth. However, the Sixers countered that with an 11-2 run of their own to take a 105-102 lead with under two minutes to go to try to keep their season alive.
The Celtics’ steady execution proved too much in the end as the Sixers once again struggled to make the right plays when needed, and they’ll now move onto face the Cleveland Cavaliers in an Eastern Conference Finals rematch, which tips off Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.