Celtics escape 76ers
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.
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...