Tim BontempsESPN3 minute read
PHILADELPHIA — When Jayson Tatum’s 3-point throwback fell through the net at the Wells Fargo Center with 1.3 seconds left in Saturday night’s thriller between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, it seemed to the world entire that he had just won the game for the Celtics.
In the end, Tatum did – but barely.
Joel Embiid caught the inbound pass that followed, and his 70ft lift only hit the net at the other end – but it came a split second after the final buzzer sounded. Instead of sending that game to overtime, it kind of made what became a 110-107 loss for the 76ers even more disheartening.
“I don’t care,” Embiid said when asked if it was almost worse that his shot came in late. “It didn’t count. But I guess it’s a good highlight for everyone, social media and all that.
“But it didn’t count, and we lost the game. It’s frustrating to lose these kinds of games, especially when you win so much. It’s frustrating.”
Embiid was spectacular, finishing with 41 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in just under 40 minutes for Philadelphia (39-20). But that didn’t stop the 76ers from losing for the third time in three meetings with Boston this season. That, coupled with Boston holding a four-game lead in the standings with 23 games left, has severely hurt the 76ers’ chances of catching their rivals.
The Sixers blew a 15-point lead, leaving the Celtics back in the game on a 23-3 run that lasted the final minutes of the third quarter and the opening minutes of the fourth.
For Boston, the memorable moment was Tatum stepping up and burying that step back 3. It wasn’t the greatest of all-around performances from Tatum, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-17 shooting to go with it. 13 rebounds, six assists. and five turnovers in 36 minutes. But when Boston needed him to deliver, he stepped up, stabbing the dagger on the strong defense of 76ers guard De’Anthony Melton.
“Get a split and make a game,” Tatum said of his thoughts on the end game. “Felt (Melton) ducked down, picked it up for the move and shot that I’ve worked on a thousand times before.”
Tatum’s shot came off a similar set used by Boston against the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this year. It’s a game the Celtics have used time and time again over the past few years, originally created by current president of basketball operations Brad Stevens during his coaching days with Boston.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla later said he stole the game from Stevens.
“I think it’s read,” Mazzulla said. “You can do a bunch of different things from (this set). So just read where the defenders are. (Marcus) Smart played a great game. (Tatum) did a good job separating.
“Situations like that, players have to make plays, and they did.”
The Sixers said they could accept the course of Boston’s final possession, with coach Doc Rivers praising Melton’s defense and tipping his cap to Tatum.
“I mean, he went down, they threw the ball to him, he went back. … That’s probably a shot he’s been working on,” Rivers said. “The best-case scenario was to make it difficult for him. He hit one hard.
“Sometimes you have to live with that.”
Philadelphia also had to live with Embiid’s miraculous shot without counting. While many of the 20,993 in attendance went nuts after the shot, the 76ers — led by Embiid himself — didn’t need to see a replay to know it didn’t count.
PJ Tucker, who immediately grabbed the ball after Tatum’s shot fell and returned it to Embiid, said the Sixers players realized it was late.
“The other guys on the bench knew it straight away,” he said.
“Yeah, I was pretty sure,” the coach said with a smile when asked if he knew it wouldn’t count. “I was hoping (I was wrong), but I was pretty sure.”
Embiid credited Celtics guard Derrick White with getting in his way enough to force him to make an extra move before releasing the shot.
“I mean, I wish I’d pulled it earlier,” Embiid said, “but when I turned around I saw Derrick White there, so I couldn’t really pull it off, so I had to kind of go back to my right side to try and pick him up.”
Then Embiid – tongue in cheek – added: “So sadly the story of my life.”