On the cusp of their first Conference Finals appearance since 2001, the Philadelphia 76ers seized defeat from the jaws of victory, going completely stagnant offensively in the fourth quarter of their 95-86 Game 6 loss to the Boston Celtics. Excluding a garbage time bucket after the Sixers had emptied the bench in the final seconds, the last field goal they made was with 7:11 left in the game. From the 5:57 mark to that meaningless bucket at the end, they scored one point. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum, who was approaching sleeper agent status with a 1-of-14 start from the field, finally woke up and hit four three-pointers in the final 4:14 of the game.
The Sixers will now head to Boston for Game 7 on Sunday, their third Game 7 in the Conference Semifinals in the last five years. We don’t need to discuss what happened on those other two occasions. Let’s get to our three takeaways from tonight’s action.
Combating Boston’s two-big line-up
Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla made the tactical decision to insert Robert Williams III in the starting lineup alongside Al Horford. With Williams largely ignoring P.J. Tucker in the corner and instead camping out near the paint, the Celtics big man was able to stifle a lot of the Sixers’ offensive attack. James Harden drives and Joel Embiid forays into the lane were met with an added defender to bog down the proceedings.
This would be fine if the Sixers were able to make Boston pay for leaving a man wide-open in the corner (one of the most efficient shots in modern basketball), but Tucker is sometimes hesitant to shoot at all and finished just 2-of-7 from three in this game. Doc Rivers made the move to go with Georges Niang later in the game and Niang made Boston pay with a pair of threes.
Doc might want to go with a similar move in Game 7 to avoid another 15-3 hole to start the game. De’Anthony Melton could be an option to insert in that spot as well, provided he isn’t once again absolutely ice-cold with his shot (0-of-4 from three, none particularly close). The irony is that the Sixers killed the Celtics’ two-big look back in February, largely because it also allows Embiid to hang around the paint and wreck Boston’s offense. Philadelphia needs to capitalize better on those open looks from the corner in Game 7 and force Mazzulla to take another approach.
What is going on with Jayson Tatum?
Yes, he carried Boston across the finish line with his 16 fourth quarter points, because he is (humbly) one of the best basketball players in the world (really feeling yourself after that win, huh Jay).
humbly, pic.twitter.com/4zanUDIo0M— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) May 12, 2023
But up until then, Tatum looked like he was playing with a training weight vest on or something to slow him down. He shot 0-of-10 from the field in the first half. He has now missed 19 straight shots in the first quarter during this series. Georges Niang locked him down for a possession in the third quarter! Remember when he struggled with his shot in the NBA Finals and then it came out that he played with a fractured wrist? Might there be a similar revelation in the not-too-distant future?
Anyway, it’s awful the Sixers weren’t able to capitalize and close this series out with Boston’s best player struggling that much. We saw in the fourth quarter what can happen if it’s simple regression to the mean back in Tatum’s favor. Hopefully, there’s not more of that to come in Game 7.
I love Tyrese Maxey more each day
A few days ago, we were talking about how much Maxey was struggling against Boston and wondering what he could do to break out. Then, he scored 30 points in Game 5 and followed it up by being the co-leading scorer with 26 points in Game 6. On top of his offensive contributions, he has taken his defensive effort to another level. I love to see him hang in there physically against the bigger Boston wings, and Tyrese has gotten very adept at poking the ball away at the right time.
Maxey amazing defense to draw the clear path foul pic.twitter.com/jArInRWNvG— hoops bot (@hoops_bot) May 12, 2023
I remember in years past, guards like Seth Curry and JJ Redick were burned on the defensive end of the court by the Celtics because they’re so good at hunting particular matchups and exploiting them again and again. But we’ve reached the point where we feel OK about Maxey out there on that end, a huge credit to him. Maxey and Niang (in a much smaller sample size, obviously) were the only guys who really played with the necessary level of juice tonight. Maybe the extra day off before Game 7 can help the vets get on this young man’s level.
"If I have to go to war in Game 7 in Boston, I want to go to war with this group." - Tyrese Maxey— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) May 12, 2023