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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Tatum comes through as Celtics hold off 76ers to level series

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Jayson Tatum scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Boston Celtics held off the Philadelphia 76ers 95-86 on Thursday to force a decisive game seven in their NBA playoff series.

The star Boston forward was enduring a dismal shooting night, making just one of 13 attempts from the floor through the first three quarters before erupting with four three-pointers in the final period as the Celtics thwarted Philadelphia’s rally bid and leveled their Eastern Conference semifinal at three games apiece.

They’ll host game seven on Sunday, trying to deny the Sixers a first trip to the conference finals since 2001.

James Harden epitomized the 76ers’ offensive struggles. He scored 13 points on four-of-13 shooting while newly minted NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid scored 26 points with 10 rebounds.

Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points per game in the regular season, said he never lost confidence even as he struggled.

“It’s a long game,” Tatum told broadcaster ESPN. “Thankfully I’ve got some great teammates that held it down.”

Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 22 points. Jaylen Brown added 17 and Malcolm Brogdon scored 16 off the bench.

Even amid Tatum’s troubles the Celtics raced to a 15-3 lead, Smart and Brogdon carrying the early load before the Sixers began to find their feet.

Philadelphia cut the deficit to three points before the Celtics pulled away again, pushing their advantage to 16 points twice in the second period.

But the Sixers clawed back, taking advantage of 17 Celtics turnovers and finally taking the lead on two free throws from Harden that put them up 64-62 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Philadelphia led 73-71 going into the final frame and were up by two when Tatum made his first three-pointer of the game to put Boston ahead.

Tatum then drilled a step-back three-pointer over Tyrese Maxey.

Another pair from beyond the arc pushed the Celtics’ lead to 11 points with 37.6 seconds remaining.

“All that mattered was we won this game,” said Tatum, who also had seven rebounds, six assists, a steal and two blocked shots. “It’s game seven, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Later Thursday, the banged-up Phoenix Suns tried to fend off elimination when they hosted Western Conference top seeds Denver in game six of their series.

Phoenix were again without veteran point guard Chris Paul, who missed games three four and five after suffering a groin injury in game two. Center Deandre Ayton was ruled out with a rib injury that has reportedly affected his breathing while All-Star guard Devin Booker went into the contest nursing an ankle injury.

The Nuggets, who routed the Suns on Tuesday to take a 3-2 lead in the series behind a 29-point triple-double from Nikola Jokic, listed ailing Jamal Murray as questionable.

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