PHILADELPHIA — Jayson Tatum buried the 3-pointer that put Boston ahead with 1.3 seconds left and casually backpedaled on defense before he turned to greet his teammates and — woosh! — a 70-foot shot sailed over his head and into the basket.
Joel Embiid shook his head no. The 76ers’ All-Star center knew his tying, desperation heave was just a tick too late.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla needed a second look to know the Celtics were in the clear and he wasn’t positive until “they showed it on the Jumbotron.”
Time to celebrate.
Tatum hit the winning 3 that capped Boston’s comeback from 15 points down in the third quarter and he finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to help the Celtics hold on for a 110-107 win against Philadelphia on Saturday night.
“I dream about taking those shots,” Tatum said. “The worst thing that can happen is you miss.”
He didn’t miss.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Derrick White added 18 and Al Horford hit five game-changing 3s for 15 points.
“Our guys have been there,” Mazzulla said. “They’ve been through it all.”
Embiid finished with 41 points and 12 rebounds. He also made 17 of 18 free throws. James Harden scored 21 points and Tobias Harris had 19.
The late-game thriller proved worthy of a showdown between two of the top teams in the East.
Boston, though, proved it’s still the team to beat.
The Sixers dug deep trailing by five with 3 minutes left. With booming “MVP! MVP!” chants filling the arena, Embiid hit two free throws and followed with a jumper that pulled the Sixers within one. Embiid then blocked Brown’s layup and Tyrese Maxey went the other way for a go-ahead driving layup that sent another packed house into a frenzy.
Horford, once considered a key cog in the 76ers’ chase for a championship, instead hit the clutch 3-pointer inside Wells Fargo Center that the city craved from him in 2019-20. He put the Celtics ahead by two points and a bucket by Tatum made it 107-103.
Harden and Embiid made four straight free throws that tied the game and put every fan — there was a smattering of green in the stands — on edge.
Tatum, though, calmly hit a 3 to put Boston ahead. Embiid then heaved one from inside the opposing 3-point line and it fell through the basket — just after the horn.
“I kind of had a feeling it wasn’t going to count,” Tatum said. “But it’s the NBA, right? Anything can happen.”
Just not on this night for the Sixers.
“Unfortunately, story of my life,” Embiid said.
Tatum celebrated by giving his game-worn jersey to Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver — and noted Celtics fan — DeVonta Smith.
The 76ers had another packed house and fans were hyped from pregame warmups for a game with a definitive playoff feel. Both teams came out firing — they each hit four 3s and shot at least 50% in the first quarter. The scoring swings were so one-sided for a stretch that the Celtics went on a 20-4 run and only led 39-32.
The Sixers entered this one with something to prove after a miserable effort in a 106-99 loss earlier this month in Boston. The reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics remain the class of the conference. The Sixers are still out to show under coach Doc Rivers they’re more than a 50-win, second-round exit team. They’re going to need Embiid to lead the way. After a difficult shooting night against Memphis on Thursday, Embiid had a game worthy of the “MVP! MVP!” chants that serenaded him with each trip to the free-throw line.
He bullied his way down the lane for big buckets. Embiid’s three-point play late in the fourth stretched the lead to 11 and he had an assist on De’Anthony Melton’s 3-pointer on the next possession.
Horford made three straight 3s to bring Boston back into the game. Horford’s fourth 3 of the quarter keyed an 18-3 run and helped the Celtics lead 80-78 through three.
“It’s not extra motivation,” Horford said of his return. “It’s just fun. Those are the games you want to be a part of.”
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