Guard/forward Jayson Tatum set an NBA record with 51 points in the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the 76ers, but said the important thing was advancing.
“I was relieved just to get another chance. Our season could have been over after Game 6,” Tatum told reporters after the Celtics overcame a 3-2 series deficit. “It definitely was on my mind that I had played as bad as it could get, for 43 minutes.
“We had a saying: ‘It’s only up from here.’”
- Coach Joe Mazzulla suggested the Celtics always believed, even when trailing in the series. “You always come into a series with the expectation of how it’s supposed to go,” he said. “That’s not how the playoffs are.”
- Swingman Jaylen Brown removed his black mask and helped the Celtics go on a key 9-0 run in the first half. But after taking off the mask, he took an accidental elbow from Sixers guard James Harden. “Nothing like a shot to the face to wake you right up,” Brown said.
- Tatum became the seventh player to score 25 or more in the first half of Game 7. His 51 points overtook 50 from Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who scored 50 in a Game 7 win over the Kings a few weeks back.
Despite losing for the 10th time in 16 total Game 7 appearances, coach Doc Rivers said he expected to be back next season.
“I thought we had the right group. I really did,” he told reporters. “We played great all year and this loss absolutely diminishes what we did this year in some way. … I think this team is headed right. I thought we took another step this season. And then tonight I think we took a step backward. But that’s OK. That happens, too.”
Rivers did concede that “no one is safe in our business and I get that.”
- Harden has an opportunity to become a free agent this offseason, but center Joel Embiid suggested Philadelphia should give it another run mostly as is. “We’ve got an unfinished job. We haven’t won anything and I think we’ve got the chance to win,” Embiid said. “We’ve got what it takes to win. … I still believe me and him have the chance to win. But it’s going to take more than (Embiid and Harden).”
Guard/forward Jimmy Butler and the Heat are already earning respect from the Celtics their opponent in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Jimmy’s one of the best players in the world,” Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon told reporters. “I think he’s proven that time and again once he gets to the playoffs. That’s an extremely well-coached team over there.
“I think where the game lies for us, for them, is who is going to out-tough.”
Added Tatum: “That’s a team we’re extremely familiar with, third time in four years playing them in the playoffs. They’re a very well-coached team. They compete with the best of them. They play hard. They defend. They make plays. And they figure out a way to win games.”