3 observations after Tatum scores 51, Sixers suffer dismal Game 7 loss


BOSTON — The Sixers could not break through Sunday afternoon. They weren't especially close either. 

The Celtics rolled past the Sixers in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series, earning a 112-88 victory at TD Garden. They'll play the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals for a second consecutive year. 

Again, the Sixers failed to advance beyond Round 2 of the playoffs. They haven’t done so since 2001. 

Jayson Tatum lit the Sixers up for 51 points, the most ever in an NBA Game 7. Jaylen Brown added 25.

Tobias Harris posted 19 points and Tyrese Maxey had 17.

Joel Embiid scored 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting. James Harden recorded nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, seven assists and five turnovers. 

Here are observations on the Sixers' blowout Game 7 defeat: 

An ideal Tucker start 

Both teams stuck with the same starters as in Game 6.

Initially, it appeared Boston’s double-big lineup would replicate its success from Thursday right away. The Sixers began 1 for 6 from the floor, kept missing open jumpers, and paid for a couple of early defensive breakdowns. Tatum threw down a dunk on his first field-goal attempt, avoiding a fourth straight nightmare start offensively, and a Robert Williams III slam put the Celtics up 8-2. 

Thanks largely to P.J. Tucker, the Sixers summoned a strong response. Tucker scored eight points during a 13-2 Sixers run with two corner threes and a layup created by a savvy, surprising cut late in the shot clock. In Game 6, the Celtics made it obvious that they valued having Williams in the paint and weren’t too worried about Tucker taking threes. The 38-year-old forward needed to be decisive, confident and productive early against that approach. He got the job done. 

Tucker finished the first quarter with 11 points, which was the second most he scored in an entire game during the regular season.

Tatum shines brightest

The Sixers managed to outscore the Celtics by three points in their first stint without Embiid.

De'Anthony Melton was excellent late in the first and early in the second quarter. He swatted two shots, scored a put-back and driving layup, and helped the Sixers in transition on both ends of the floor. The Sixers posted the afternoon’s first seven fast-break points. 

However, as soon as the Sixers took a 35-26 lead, Boston answered with a 9-0 run. Neither of the Sixers’ stars were good during that stretch; Harden opened 1 for 6 from the floor, Embiid 3 for 11. Harden also picked up a Flagrant 1 foul for hitting Brown in the face with his right arm as the Sixers point guard rose for a driving layup attempt. Following that play, the game generally seemed to turn a touch nastier and more intense. Tatum and Brown were effective aggressors, too. Tatum mixed things up very nicely on his drives, including a spin move and lefty layup that lifted Boston to a 42-39 edge. 

To close the first half, the Sixers were determined to get Embiid touches on essentially every possession. While the MVP increased his physicality and drew five foul shots late in the second quarter, his decisions when double teamed weren’t always sharp and Al Horford played sound isolation defense.

After an Embiid turnover, Tatum sunk a step-back three. He had 25 points at intermission and the Celtics held a three-point lead. At that stage, Boston’s four-time All-Star wing was easily the day’s most impressive player. By the final buzzer, it was an even greater landslide. 

Stuck on 58 forever 

Embiid notched his sole assist on the Sixers’ opening play of the third quarter, kicking the ball out to Harris for a catch-and-shoot three. 

The Sixers’ next few minutes of offense were significantly worse. Playing his sixth consecutive game on a sprained right knee, Embiid was frequently deliberate on his touches from the post and elbow, trying to read Boston’s defense and wait until helpers fully committed. That didn’t often generate great shots, though, and the Sixers’ collective pace dipped in the middle of the game. 

Tatum kept nailing both well-contested and comfortable shots, including a tough three over Embiid and a pull-up triple against the Sixers’ zone. He deserves credit for sinking a bunch of jumpers that no defense could stop.

Still, the Sixers’ efforts to rescue the situation and counter Boston’s third-quarter surge were dismal. Plenty of decent looks didn’t drop, but the team also lost its offensive structure and composure during a season-killing scoreless stretch that spanned from the 8:02 to 1:39 mark of the third. Harden committed a couple of turnovers and couldn’t restore any offensive rhythm. After a possession that ended with a shot-clock violation because Embiid only hit the backboard on a desperation three, he looked at Harden and shrugged. 

As was the case last year when the Sixers played an ugly Game 6 and lost at home to the Heat, the final game of the team's season reflects poorly on almost everyone involved. Any Game 7 defeat would've been painful, but the fourth quarter Sunday was entirely noncompetitive. 

It's hard to know yet exactly how the offseason will play out, but none of the major questions ahead are pleasant ones for the Sixers to consider. Head coach Doc Rivers again could not guide the team past Round 2. Harden has a $35.6 million player option. Harris is now through four seasons of a five-year, $180 million contract. Embiid is 29 years old, an MVP, and already an all-time Sixers great, but he still has not played in the conference finals. 

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