The stakes don’t get much higher in sport than a Game 7 against one of your fiercest rivals, but with legacies on the line and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals up for grabs, Tatum stepped up and delivered a record-breaking performance.
The 25-year-old has become the figurehead of this talented Celtics group, and with 51 points – a Game 7 record – he has already cemented his place in Boston folklore.
In a deafening TD Garden, Tatum torched the Sixers from start to finish. The wing had 25 points in the first half and in the game defining third quarter put up a staggering 17 points.
Tatum’s 51, along with 13 rebounds and five assists, will live long in the memory of NBA fans as an all-time great Game 7 performance.
Not only did Tatum end the 76ers’ playoff hopes, but the four-time All-Star could have put an end to Philadelphia’s ‘The Process’ era following another disappointing second-round exit.
‘The Process’ was the name given to the 76ers’ rebuilding phase throughout the last decade and has now become centered around Joel Embiid, but once again Philadelphia has fallen short in the post-season.
Embiid, the regular season MVP, and James Harden failed to match Tatum’s display with both players seeming to crack under the pressure when it mattered most.
Embiid could only muster a measly 15 points – he averaged 33.1 in the regular season – and Harden did not even manage to get into double digits.
Despite their stars not firing, the Sixers remained in the game at half-time – only trailing 55-52 at the interval. Then the Celtics took complete control, Boston outscoring Philadelphia 33-10 in the third, killing the game off with their incredible three-point shooting display.
“It’s a movie. It’s a big movie,” said point guard Marcus Smart of Tatum’s performance. “Being able to just sit back, eat your popcorn and watch. Sometimes we do get in that mode where we forget that we’re on the court playing with him.”
Jaylen Brown also enjoyed his teammate’s performance adding, “JT just got it going and get out of that man’s way. He got it rolling, and there’s nothing they could do to stop him.”
The Celtics will now face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, a repeat of last year’s and 2020’s matchup. The series begins in Boston on Wednesday with both teams looking to get off to a flying start.