BOSTON — Jaylen Brown received the blow, across his face, that woke up the Boston Celtics from its doldrums. Immediately afterward, Jayson Tatum delivered the knockout out punch to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Carrying over the momentum of his 16-point fourth quarter on Thursday that saved his team’s season, Tatum put on a masterclass, scoring 42 points, including 17 in the decisive third quarter, as the Celtics throttled the Sixers 112-88 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals series inside TD Garden on Sunday afternoon. In going back to the conference finals for a second consecutive year, Boston came back from a 3-2 deficit in the same round for a second season running, having to win a Game 6 on the road, like it did in 2022 against Milwaukee, before booking its spot alongside the Miami Heat in the penultimate round of the NBA Playoffs.
Tatum, who had already scored 25 points at halftime to give the Celtics a three-point lead at the break, almost made it a personal mission of his to end the series, scoring 13 points in the 5:46, with his two final shots coming on step-back three-pointers while going one-on-one with the newly-minted MVP, Joel Embiid. Heeding Brown’s cry after Boston’s Game 6 win, the TD Garden crowd became unglued with the noise that enveloped it as the Celtics lead grew as much as 28 in the quarter and by 30 early in the fourth.
Though it appeared to occur eons ago, the Sixers held the lead for most of the first part of the game, the TD Garden crowd on edge as Philadelphia weathered an early 8-2 start by Boston before establishing an eight-point lead in the second quarter. A De’Anthony Melton chase-down block of a Tatum layup early in the second quarter led to a one-on-one in the open court with Harden attacking the basket against Brown. As Harden lost the ball going up for a layup, Harden’s right arm flailed and smacked Brown across the face, bloodying Brown’s lip and leaving him lying on the floor underneath the basket for a couple of minutes. Harden was assesses a flagrant foul after a review, and it had the potential to become the turning point.
What the foul turned into was the beginning of a green-clad tsunami, with Boston outscoring the Sixers 28-17 for the rest of the quarter (Boston had 27 points total before Harden’s flagrant) and a ridiculous 56-23 outburst spanning the second and the third quarter that spelled doom for the 76ers and their hopes of making their first conference finals since 2001.