Celtics es­cape 76ers

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BOS­TON — With 2.4 sec­onds left and the Bos­ton Celtics lead­ing by two, Mar­cus Smart had a chance to clinch Game 5 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals and elim­i­nate Philadel­phia by mak­ing a pair of free throws. He missed the first. He could have made things more dif­fi­cult for the 76ers by miss­ing the sec­ond one on pur­pose, and forc­ing them to go the length of the court with the clock run­ning. He chucked it against the rim; it went in.

That gave the 76ers a chance to win with a des­per­a­tion 3-pointer. The full-court in­bounds pass went into the left cor­ner, and who was there to in­ter­cept it, heav­ing it back into the air to run out the clock?

To the sur­prise of no one in a Celtics uni­form, it was Smart.

“That’s a Mar­cus Smart se­quence. That just de­scribes him so well,” guard Jaylen Brown said af­ter Bos­ton beat Philadel­phia 114-112 on Wed­nes­day night to ad­vance to the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals for the sec­ond straight year. “If it came down to one guy com­ing up with it, ev­ery­body’s got their money on Smart.”

Jayson Ta­tum scored 25 points, Brown had 24 and Terry Rozier scored 17, sink­ing a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game with 9.8 sec­onds left af­ter forc­ing Joel Em­biid’s turnover. Al Hor­ford added 15 points and eight re­bounds for Bos­ton.

The Celtics will play Cleve­land in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals for the sec­ond straight year. Game 1 is Sun­day in Bos­ton. It’s the Celtics’ first back-to­back trips to the con­fer­ence fi­nals since mak­ing it five straight times in the orig­i­nal Big Three era from 198488.

Em­biid had 27 points and 12 re­bounds for the 76ers, Dario Saric had 27 points and 10 re­bounds, and Ben Sim­mons added 18 points, eight re­bounds and six as­sists. The 76ers rode The Process back into the play­offs for the first time since 2012, win­ning won 20 out of 21 games be­fore Bos­ton beat them three straight times to open the con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals. In a game that fea­tured 21 lead changes — the most in the play­offs this year — the Celtics scored eight straight points in the fi­nal 1:37, tak­ing the lead on Ta­tum’s layup with 23 sec­onds left. Em­biid had a chance to tie it but he missed a heav­ily con­tested layup, failed to tip it back in and then grabbed that re­bound, too.

Rozier knocked the ball out of his hands, off his leg and out of bounds with 10.8 sec­onds left.

J.J. Red­dick’s 3pointer cut the deficit to one, and then it was Smart’s turn. Com­ing off the bench, he had 14 points, six re­bounds, six as­sists and three steals.

Af­ter strik­ing up a long-dis­tance friend­ship with Drew Bled­soe dur­ing the Mil­wau­kee se­ries, Rozier fi­nally met the for­mer Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back for real.

Rozier first in­voked Bled­soe’s name dur­ing a trash-talk­ing back-and-forth with Bucks guard Eric Bled­soe, pre­tend­ing to con­fuse the two. Drew Bled­soe joined the fun by record­ing a video that was played for the TD Gar­den crowd dur­ing Game 7.

The win­ner of the Red Auer­bach Tro­phy as the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award will be an­nounced next month.

AP Photo

UN­SUNG HERO. Bos­ton Celtics guard Terry Rozier cel­e­brates af­ter a driv­ing to the bas­ket late in the fourth quar­ter against the Philadel­phia 76ers in Game 5 of an NBA basketball play­off se­ries in Bos­ton. Rozier scored 24 points as the Celtics de­feated...

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