The Philadelphia 76ers knotted their second-round series up at 2-2 on Sunday and it was an absolute, heart-stopping thriller. We were hoping for a snoozer when the team was up 15 with 1:37 remaining in the third. It seemed Philadelphia was just a couple big shots away from stepping on the Celtics’ throats, but most fans knew better.
After the victory, Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid, James Harden and P.J. Tucker talked about an absolutely unforgettable 116-115 playoff win over the rival Boston Celtics.
My heart is still pounding. I’m still clutching my lucky stuffed animals nervously.
On the Harden game-winner, Beard’s second in just four games
JAMES HARDEN GAME WINNER. pic.twitter.com/FiK59uw8VI— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 7, 2023
In overtime, things looked bleak. Head coach Doc Rivers called a timeout with 26.1 seconds remaining, Philadelphia was trailing 115-113 after Jayson Tatum got away with a clear push off on Tyrese Maxey, before draining a potential dagger triple.
It’s a travesty the NBA league office can’t review key plays during the timeout and overturn such a clear no call. The NFL does this well. Millions of camera angles, drones, plus long commercial breaks to figure it all out, and the NBA just like... won’t?
We can ruminate and whine, but the Sixers yesterday had to focus on the next play.
So what did Doc draw up?
“Exactly what we got,” Rivers said. “We thought if Tobias curled over the top … they’d been switching everything. And we told Tobias, ‘If they don’t switch, you’re going to have a layup. If they do switch, whoever’s guarding Tobias is going to be on Joel.’ And that’s good for us. And we told James, ‘you stand right there and if they come, be ready to shoot.’ Talk about trust. That’s what it’s all about right there.”
Rivers talked about it being a catch-and-shoot jumper, specifically, something James has worked on tirelessly since joining the team.
Embiid also spoke about that final play.
“I thought Al [Horford] was going to be on me and they switched the matchup. I had the decision to either go score or play the two-man game with James. No matter who was on me, I just figured I would go score. And as soon as I saw JB (Jaylen Brown) help off the strong-side corner, that was an easy play. The trust that we talked about all season long. That’s the same shot we got in the regular season against Miami. Got to keep trusting my guys, and he just made a great shot.”
Goosebumps. That Tobias layup, or a potential Joel middy, even if sunk would have merely tied it, setting us up for either a crushing Marcus Smart buzzer beater or another OT. This played out perfectly. An inverse confetti game.
Jaylen Brown is so athletic he had an amazing closeout, he just barely missed this one:
In Games 1 and 4 we got Ice water James.
Here’s Harden’s own perspective, it seems to vary a tad from Doc’s version because James says he expected a DHO, but improvised to space out.
“It was supposed to be a dribble handoff,” Harden said. “I throw it into Joel and it’s supposed to be a dribble handoff … but Jaylen Brown was kind of denying me, so I didn’t want to fight it and have the clock run down. So I just gave Joel space to do what he did. And he got so far in the paint that I feel like Jaylen Brown wanted to go help. Jo made an unbelievable pass, and catch and shoot.”
Doc on the officiating
Maxey did not fall on this play. Smart would have performed as if he’d been decked by Tyson. You can see how the NBA incentivizes played to grift. https://t.co/inOkjkxm4p— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) May 7, 2023
Like almost everyone rooting for Philadelphia, Doc was not pleased the push off wasn’t called on Jayson Tatum’s go-ahead triple with 26 seconds to go in OT.
“Jayson Tatum’s three was awful — that that wasn’t a call. Awful.”
Doc was asked by a reporter if he felt JT pushed off.
“Did you? Did you think it was a push-off? I’m asking you. … No, be committed! Did you think it was a push-off? It was a push-off. And the reason it bugged me is at the end of the game, there are going to be touch fouls. … So if we’re going to call it that way, then you have to call that. To me, you’ve got to call that play. I know it’s a big play, and I’m a big fan of refs not deciding (games). But that (no-call) could’ve decided the game.”
Here were a couple of the late fouls I suspect Doc meant to reference.
The officials, Rivers (accurately) believes, were setting a precedent that they would be calling marginal contact plays late in the contest:
Joel Embiid was called for a CRUCIAL offensive foul on this collision with Marcus Smart— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) May 7, 2023
The play was reviewed and the charge was upheld…
Good call or bad call? pic.twitter.com/vxvelLcAnU
This wild one below helped give Boston a two-point lead with under one minute to go, and easily could have been game-winning, series-swinging freebies for Smart.
The broadcast (Marc Jones and Doris Burke) used the word “embellishment,” to remain diplomatic.
51 seconds to go, tie game. Just fall for a huge pair of free throws. I think players should probably be flopping a LOT more than they are. It just works.— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) May 7, 2023
Rivers may get himself a fine, but he has a point. If you’re going to call things so closely, you should continue to so the players understand how to play:
Woke up still thinking about this…— Josh Reynolds (@JoshReynolds24) May 8, 2023
People arguing Harden flopped - Look how far Williams jumps forward lol
From the @OfficialNBARefs: “Williams closes out & his right foot ends up in the landing space of James & there is foot to foot contact on the landing. A foul was needed.” pic.twitter.com/yfXgmEDxvi
Daryl Morey should make the NBA one of his little compilations to help the next crew figure this stuff out. Boston is getting more and more daring with their landing zone fouls on Harden. Any one of these dangerous close outs could end his season like Kawhi Leonard’s was once ended by Zaza Pachulia.
And Marcus Smart is being constantly rewarded for some of his most egregious flops. If I were his coach, I’d encourage him to do it even more than he has until they find the NBA’s limit.
One coach’s challenge isn’t nearly enough vs. a #HustleAward player.
Even former CelticsBlog and current Ringer analysts are disgusted with the league’s incentivizing a player to junk an otherwise exhilarating ballgame up.
I hate when referees blow the whistle just because a player falls. Why reward Marcus Smart for that flop?— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 7, 2023
Tucker brought the toughness
Rivers was given the chance to talk about this team’s heart and toughness.
He knew just who to credit.
“Do you know the biggest difference? There was a guy named P.J. Tucker on Miami (last year). There’s a guy named P.J. Tucker on our team, and he got the offensive rebound and a three-point play, which was huge for us. And he helped everybody. So that’s part of it.”
PJ TUCKER AND-ONE!!!!!pic.twitter.com/pdI8k7YtMN— Pisou Na Linha (@pisounalinha) May 7, 2023
PJ TUCKER AND ONE! DR J LOVES IT! pic.twitter.com/DBheEyBrR4— The Sports Place (@offsportsplace) May 7, 2023
It was Embiid who wanted this man in Philly, specifically.
Thank goodness Joel mentioned Tuck by name at exits last year. Morey knew what to do.
“That’s why we brought him here,” Embiid said. “That’s how he killed us last year — offensive rebounds, big play after big play offensively and defensively. That’s who he is. He’s always ready for it, and I’m just glad he’s by my side.”
What did Tucker yell to Joel late in fourth?
PJ Tucker saved the season with this moment. #Sixers didn’t have anyone to do this in past years.— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) May 7, 2023
“He just got on me,” Embiid said. “He said I need to be me. … That’s when I kind of got myself together and started thinking how to attack them best, like I was doing in the first quarter — really, the first half. I thought in that fourth quarter, I kind of got stuck a lot of times just relying on my jump shot, even knowing that I had no lift. I was kind of gassed. But he just got on me about going back to myself and being aggressive. Overtime, it was a blessing that my teammates got me there, so I just wanted to be aggressive and just make plays all over the place.”
EMBIID TURNAROUND FOR 32.— NBA (@NBA) May 7, 2023
1 POINT GAME ON ESPN.
2 MINUTES TO PLAY IN OT! pic.twitter.com/lEtPTAScqE
It’s difficult to picture any other Sixer Embiid has played with (except Jimmy Butler) getting on the MVP like that. You love that about P.J., who is simply a winner.
“Everybody wants to shoot and look pretty and dunk the ball, shoot the three, and get the ESPN highlights,” James Harden added about Tucker. “But he’s the charges, diving on the floor, picking up the best player. He does all that. So he’s a great addition to our team and he’s very special.”
Tucker was asked about his monster and-one, and what he said to get Joel’s head in the game.
“The three-point play is just will and determination — just wanting to win,” Tucker explained. “I had just gotten back in the game, so I had to leave an imprint somehow and usually it’s offensive rebounding in those moments when James, Jo or Tyrese are attacking. And the Jo play is just me. Nobody can guard Jo 1-on-1. There’s no way. I’m sorry, it’s not a disrespect to Al (Horford) or anybody else, but I guarded (Embiid) for a lot of years and when he’s aggressive and assertive, it’s impossible. And I saw him two or three plays in a row not do that, and we can’t have that. We can’t have that — not with the season on the line. We can’t have it.”
The next ballgame is Tuesday night.
Per DraftKings, the Celts are currently -7 point favorites. So oddsmakers can keep sleeping on this Philly team.
But in that locker room, they’re clearly relying on trust and accountability at just the right time.