PHILADELPHIA — Jayson Tatum was in a funk. He missed all 10 of his first half shots. He had just two points going into the fourth quarter. The Celtics were 12 minutes away from the end of their season. The Sixers fans were going wild. Tatum looked like a guy whose season was about to end with a thud.
He bounced back and got out of that funk. Tatum scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a trio of three-pointers in the final minutes, to lift the C’s to a 95-86 win over the Sixers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semis. Boston can now gets a Game 7 at home. “I’m, humbly, one of the best players in the world,” he said in a TV interview on the court.
Postgame, he was asked what he was thinking as the game unfolded. He had a pretty good answer: “Shit, hit a shot.” Tatum’s first bucket came with 8:34 left in the third quarter. He was still a menace around the court, finishing with nine rebounds and six assists, but he was 5-of-21 from the floor for the game. He missed shots inside and out, contested and wide open. The Celtics saw their first half 16-point lead evaporate by the middle of the third quarter.
“His poise got it going,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought his communication with his teammates, I thought his defensive intensity and I thought even his force trying to drive the ball kept him in the game. He plays with a level of poise regardless of how the game is going.”
Tatum’s first three gave Boston the lead for good. He took a pass from Malcolm Brogdon in the corner and drained a three over Joel Embiid. The next possession, he dribbled Tyrese Maxey out of arm’s reach before hitting another one. That put Boston up four—and with the way Philly was shooting in the fourth, it was over.
“Being transparent, that shit was was frustrating,” Tatum said at his postgame presser. “You want to win so bad. You want to play so well. And, you know, shots not falling and things just not necessarily going your way—and you want it, you want it so bad.” They fell for him in the fourth. He hit those threes, a three-point play and two free throws for good measure. He got to say “shit” several times to the press postgame. It was a pretty good night, in the end.
“For 43 minutes, I had to hear it from everyone, telling me how bad I was,” Tatum said. “It felt kinda good to see everybody getting out and leaving their seat early.”
Now he gets a chance to go back to Boston and make that fourth quarter mean even more if the Celtics can win in Game 7.