No team in NBA history has blown a 3-0 series lead, and these Boston Celtics don’t have the look of becoming the first.
Not after an overtime thriller like that. In the lowest-scoring game of the series yet, the Celtics won their first game of the postseason away from the TD Garden, 101-98 over the Philadelphia 76ers, to move within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Terry Rozier III came up with a loose ball on an errant JJ Redick pass and bided his time to find Jaylen Brown for a layup and the lead, 89-87, with 1.7 seconds left in regulation – only to see the Sixers advance the ball off a timeout and force the extra session on a Marco Belinelli jumper just inside the arc as time expired.
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No matter for these Celtics.
Boston survived the first game of the series in which Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were each factors at the same time – at least until the very end of the game – countering with yet another dynamic effort from and Jayson Tatum.
Plagued by foul trouble, the Celtics relied on Rozier to carry the team for stretches in which Tatum, Brown and to a lesser extent, Aron Baynes, weren’t available.
Tatum did almost all his damage in the first quarter and later fourth quarter and overtime, coming out of the gate blazing with 9 points in the first and 13 more down the stretch to help close the Sixers out and push them to the brink of elimination.
Tatum finished with 24 points, his fifth straight playoff game over 20 points – breaking a tie with one Larry Bird for the most consecutive 20-point games by a Celtic in the postseason.
For as good as Embiid (22 points, 19 rebounds) and Simmons (16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists) were, each missed a shot on Philadelphia’s final possession of the fourth quarter that would have given the team a 3-point cushion with under 30 seconds left.
As Simmons missed a tip-in off an Embiid jumper, Boston had life down 98-97. Brad Stevens used each of the two timeouts at his disposal and drew up a play for Al Horford in the low post.
Marcus Morris floated an inbound pass over the head of Robert Covington that landed perfectly in the hands of Horford, who was able to lay it in with 5.5 seconds left to give the Celtics their first lead of overtime.
In a game in which Horford didn’t have a point until the second half, it wasn’t the last time his impact would be felt despite minimal time remaining.
Simmons looked to Embiid on an inbound pass, only to be picked off by Horford. The big man nailed each of his free throws, Belinelli missed out on a chance to tie the game on a long 3, and the Celtics had their 3-0 advantage.
The game was tied at 75, 77, 79, 81, 83, 85, 87 and 89.
It was an off night from 3-point land for Boston, which shot only 26.3 percent from deep (10-for-38). Brown connected on 3 of his 6 attempts from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points off the bench. Horford managed 13 for the Celtics while Rozier finished with 18. Baynes had 7 points and 10 rebounds for Boston before fouling out.
Game 4 is Monday night in Philadelphia.