PHILADELPHIA — Fear of infamy can be a great motivating force.
Joe Mazzula and jayson tatum I felt this in different but important ways on Thursday night as the boston celtics faced a disastrous end to their season at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The young coach and star player had to come face to face with the kind of enduring regret that blights summers and sticks stubbornly on resumes. They had no choice but to do something about it, and that apprehension seems to have served them well as Boston stayed alive with a 95-86 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It became clear that most of the Celtics’ roster had wished, behind the scenes, for the team to return to the great lineup that led to the NBA Finals last spring.
that meant Al-Horford playing defensive center and Robert Williams III playing like a prowling free safety, helping the other team’s worst shooter roam around and create havoc.
Last season, Williams dealt with a knee injury and was billed as a game-time decision often during the postseason (he missed seven games). He was so vital to the game plan that the late-night announcement often came with some suspense.
But that so-called “double big” lineup, which crushed teams by 25 points per 100 possessions combined, was on the court for a total of 81 minutes throughout the regular season and had yet to play a second in this series against Philadelphia. . entering Game 6.
Mazzulla, who was an assistant coach to Ime Udoka on the coaching staff last season, obviously preferred not to use it. He liked to rotate Horford and Williams and use the extra spot for a perimeter player he scored as. white derrick either malcolm brogdon.
But on the Wednesday before he flew to Philadelphia, while he was being criticized for his tactical moves in his first major series as head coach, Mazzulla relented. He told the players that, with james harden get into the paint too easily and Joel Embiid growing stronger by the game, he would go back to the old way.
Call it what you want: give in, consent or break; Mazzulla made a strong pivot and threw his game plan overboard. And his players, after saying who knows what behind closed doors, adored him for it.
There was this:
“I was ecstatic about it,” guard smart marcus saying. “[Williams] He’s huge for us and I was proud to have him on the court and it shows Joe’s learning just like all of us. I know that he has been killed many times, with good reason. He needs to make some adjustments and he did and that’s all you can ask for.”
“I was excited,” Horford said. “I’m so happy Rob is out there. He just does a lot for us defensively.”
“It made a tremendous, tremendous difference and you could just see it.” jaylen brown saying. “It doesn’t take a professional eye to see the difference Rob made.”
It worked. The 76ers began the game shooting 1-for-11, baffled by the Celtics’ size and the multiple zone defense possessions that blocked the paint. Then down the stretch, the Celtics defense blocked them again, forcing 11 straight misses in the fourth quarter when play was stopped.
The Sixers seemed unprepared as the lineup contributed to freezing ball movement. Harden, who finished 4-of-16 shooting, and Embiid, who scored 26 points but was ineffective in the fourth quarter, missed out on advancing to the conference finals for the first time in 22 years.
“I saw a sense of urgency, I saw a sense of togetherness,” Mazzulla said. “The guys have shown that every time they’ve played together.”
Then there was Tatum, who had a different mindset. His drama wasn’t planned, he wallowed in it. After sitting around for a few days hearing about how he desperately needed to get his team off to a good start in an elimination game after going 0-for-8 in Game 4 and 0-for-6 in Game 5, Tatum was playing one of the worst matches of his life.
And it was ugly.
He was missing a lot, making one of his first 14 shots. The Celtics, with their first defensive lineup, needed Tatum to increase their scoring pace, and at times, he didn’t even seem to want to shoot.
He had the makings of a dark day, and certainly social media, but minus the non-digital commentary all over New England, was all over him for it.
His teammates weren’t watching TV or looking at their phones, but they knew the backlash was permeating. One by one Smart, Brown, Horford, Brogdon, grant williams and more turned to speak into Tatum’s ear during timeouts trying to shake him off.
“That’s right — it was frustrating,” Tatum said. “You really want to win, you want to play very well and the shots don’t fall and things don’t necessarily go well. And you want it, you want it so bad.”
And you don’t want to face the wrath of failure. A day earlier, Tatum made first-team All-NBA and it was well reported that it made him eligible to sign a contract next year worth up to $318 million. Everyone saw that figure. And he went 1 for 14.
He kept looking at the game clock and telling himself that there was time to do something. The score was tight and there was still room for a hero.
And Tatum saved the day. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, three more than the 76ers as a team. He made 4 of 5 triples. He looked at the crowd as they headed for the exits.
He then stepped up to do a farewell interview in front of millions of fans with ESPN sideline reporter Cassidy Hubbarth and delivered an instant classic quote:
“I am humbly one of the best basketball players in the world.”
Tatum: I am ‘humbly, one of the best basketball players in the world’
Jayson Tatum oozed confidence after taking charge in the fourth quarter against the 76ers.
Yeah, there’s no infamy tonight.
“I really believe that and I know that, and it’s easy to tell you that when you know you got 40 (points),” Tatum said an hour after answering a barrage of messages on his phone.
“But I think that shows character when you can tell yourself that when you’ve only hit one shot, when things don’t go your way, you know, you have to be the same person, have the same morals, the same character up and down. And I kept telling myself that I believe in myself until it changed.”