The Good News: More Sixers Basketball! The Bad News: It’ll Be in Boston

They were down big early, came back, but couldn’t seal the series at home.


sixers celtics game 6

Joel Embiid is not happy. The Sixers fell to the Celtics in Game 6 of the playoffs. / Photograph by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

So, that game tonight. Robert Williams III got his first start of the series for the Celts, along with Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, who was without a mask for the first time since February. For the Sixers, it was Harden, Maxey, Harris, Tucker and Embiid. The Sixers turned it over on their first possession, but Smart’s initial three rimmed out, so … There was a foul on Williams before the first minute ticked off.

Tucker nailed a three from the corner, then nabbed a steal. Embiid missed the layup and came up hobbling. He wasn’t wearing his brace again. Embiid got called for a foul after Smart ripped the ball out of his hands. The Sixers looked jumpy; they were missing all their shots. The refs were calling the game tight. Smart hit his third three less than four minutes in; the Celts had a 10-0 run: 13-3. And the Sixers got a shot-clock violation. Damn. Maxey missed another floater, Harris missed a layup, and the boos were beginning. The game was getting very hard to watch.

Finally, Maxey got a steal and a layup. Embiid passed up a shot from the foul line to drive and hang from the rim, finally asserting himself. Harris got a jam, Maxey hit a three, and that capped a 9-0 Sixers run: 15-12. The crowd was happy again.

Malcolm Brogdon hit two threes in quick succession. Maxey matched him with one. Joel was called for a goal tend that clearly wasn’t one, but House hit a three to make up for it. Joel worked a foul on Horford, who got teed up for bitching about it. Embiid missed a three to close out the first: 29-22 Celts. Thank God Tatum was colder than water ice.

A minute and a half into the second, Boston had a 37-24 lead, the biggest of the game. Harden was hit with an offensive foul. You could see Game 7 looming on the horizon. Then Williams got an offensive foul — at least the refs were being even-handed with the lousy calls. Oh God, it was 44-28 halfway through the quarter, and Doc called a time-out.

At the restart, Maxey threw the ball out of bounds over a triple-teamed Joel. Everything was out of whack. A shot-clock violation on the Celtics — maybe it would turn the tide? Nah — a Tucker three rimmed out. Harden did make what was just his second dunk of the season, though. Two Maxey free throws made it a 10-point game, and that felt like a moral victory. An Embiid layup: eight points. Harden dribbled the ball off his foot and damn near lost it, but Maxey nailed a three. Tatum misses a three at the buzzer; he had one whole point so far. And that 10-4 Sixers run made it 50-43 at the half.

A Maxey layup and a Tucker three cut the lead to four in the early minutes of the third. But Embiid picked up his second foul defending on Williams, then lost the ball going up for a shot. Smart scored on a fancy pirouette, and Doc called another time-out. Hey, Tatum scored a field goal! He’d been 0-11. Brown took the ball away from Embiid, who was on the floor scrambling for a loose ball, then collapsed driving to the basket and was slow getting up. He blamed a wet spot on the court; who knows? After a terrific Embiid block, Harden generously passed to Niang, who’d just missed a three, and Georges hit this one.

Two-point game! A Tatum turnover, a foul on Embiid … tie game. A foul on Harden, a 14-2 run: Sixers’ first lead. Another Embiid layup! Philly was barely holding on. Reed came in for Embiid and blew a layup, but the Sixers got the steal — and Harden blew the layup. Harden drew a foul on Brown with one second left and sank two. End of the third: Sixers, 73-71.

Embiid sat to start the fourth, with Reed in; he promptly got a steal and a foul. Embiid back in! The lead seesawed back and forth, back and forth, excruciatingly. Maxey made a glorious steal, and Boston was called for a clear-path foul. Embiid sank ’em: 83-81 halfway through. Boston had 18 turnovers, the most in any playoff game yet. Another Embiid block! Out of bounds on the Sixers, the refs said — and Doc challenged the call. There was a contretemps about that clear-path foul; Embiid shouldn’t have taken the shots. Maxey made them instead. And the challenge by Doc was successful. Man, there was stuff in this game I’d never seen before. “Neither team has had more than a two-point lead in the fourth,” Doris noted, just as Tatum sank a three. And then another — goddamn. Boston up, 87-83, with three and a half minutes to go. Maxey threw up an airball, but then hustled up to get fouled on a layup. Made one, missed one. Who had a bad feeling about this?

Sure enough, with the shot clock expiring, Horford was called for a foul on Harden, Boston challenged, the foul was reversed, we got the ball out of bounds — and nothing doing. It was all going wrong. Tatum had suddenly turned into an MVP; he sank another three. With a minute and a half to go, the Sixers were down 92-84. Harden fell down and begged for a foul call; nothing doing. Boston ball, under a minute left. Tatum hit another f’ing three; he had 16 in the quarter.

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.