BOSTON (AP) — Jayson Tatum caught a pass underneath the basket, shook off a hit and went up for the go-ahead layup with 23 seconds left and the Boston Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers 114-112 on Wednesday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Tatum scored 25 points, Jaylen Brown had 24 and Terry Rozier 17, sinking a pair of free throws after forcing Joel Embiid‘s turnover in the final seconds. Al Horford added 15 points and eight rebounds for Boston, which will play Cleveland for the second straight year for a spot in the NBA finals.
Game 1 is Sunday in Boston.
Embiid had 27 points and 12 rebounds for the 76ers, who roared back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012, winning won 20 out of 21 games before Boston beat them three straight times to open the conference semifinals. Dario Saric had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Ben Simmons added 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Embiid had a chance to tie it after Tatum made it 111-109 with 18.8 seconds left. But he missed a heavily contested layup, failed to tip it back in and then grabbed that rebound, too. Rozier knocked the ball out of his hands, off his leg and out of bounds with 10.8 seconds left.
Rozier made a pair of free throws to make it 113-109 — eight straight points for Boston. J.J. Reddick’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to one.
Marcus Smart missed his first free-throw attempt and appeared to try to miss the second, too — to force the Sixers to bring the ball up the court with the clock running — but the ball went in. Philadelphia’s full-court inbounds pass was intercepted by Smart, and he threw the ball in the air to run out the clock.
The Celtics and Cavaliers will meet in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight year, but both teams have undergone near-complete overhauls since the Cavaliers eliminated Boston in five games last year. Only four players on each side remain from that series.
The Celtics scored the last eight points of the first half, including 3-pointers by Baynes and one by Rozier at the buzzer, to open a 61-52 lead. Philadelphia closed the third quarter on a 21-5 run to make it a one-point game.
BLEDSOE AND ROZIER
After striking up a long-distance friendship with Drew Bledsoe during the Milwaukee series, Rozier finally met the former Patriots quarterback for real.
Rozier first invoked Bledsoe’s name during a trash-talking back-and-forth with Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, pretending to confuse the two. Drew Bledsoe joined the fun by recording a video that was played for the TD Garden crowd during Game 7.
But on Wednesday, the football player was there in person, meeting Rozier before the game and sitting courtside with Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck.
NO OFFENSE TAKEN
Brad Stevens has never put much stock in coach of the year awards.
So predictably, the news earlier Wednesday that he didn’t receive a single vote for this season’s National Basketball Coaches Association’s trophy, which went to Toronto’s Dwane Casey, didn’t faze him either.
“The way that thing works is you get one vote…I looked at the sheet and there’s no way that I would have voted for me over any of the other 29 people,” Stevens said. “The guy that should have won got it.”
Other coaches to receive votes were Brett Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Quin Snyder and Terry Stotts.
The winner of the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award will be announced next month.
76ers: Embiid was called for a technical foul for elbowing Horford under the basket midway through the third period. Horford made the free throw, and Baynes made two for the original foul to give Boston a 75-63 lead, its biggest of the game to that point.
Celtics: G Shane Larkin (left shoulder sprain) was unavailable after running into a hard pick in Game 4. That left the coach Brad Stevens with an eight-man rotation. … With seven 3-pointers in the series, Baynes has more in these five games than in the other 409 games of his career combined, according to ESPN. … Boston was 6-for-20 in the third, with six turnovers, watching a nine-point lead wither to one. … Tatum and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell are the only two NBA rookies with seven straight playoff games of at least 20 points since Julius Erving did it in 1972.