BOSTON – Four-time All-Star Jayson Tatum is savouring his Boston Celtics’ upcoming Eastern Conference Finals rematch against the Miami Heat, after stomping out the Philadelphia 76ers 112-88 on Sunday with a record-breaking 51 points in Game 7.
The Celtics beat the Heat a year ago en route to the National Basketball Association Finals, where they lost to the Golden State Warriors. Tatum promised there would be fireworks when their rivalry with Miami continues this week.
“They make plays and they figure out a way to win games. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be highly competitive,” said Tatum.
“As a competitor, you just love the opportunity.”
It will mark the third time the two teams have met in the conference finals in four seasons, after the Heat came out on top in 2020 before losing the championship series to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Heat have enjoyed a charmed run as the first eighth seeds in nearly a quarter-century to reach the conference finals.
But Tatum’s Sunday showstopper – with 13 rebounds, five assists and the most points ever in a Game 7 – surely sent a chill even through the balmy shores of South Beach.
“Being in another Game 7, being able to come back home in front of our fans, I was really excited for the moment,” he told reporters.
Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said the performance was as much a credit to Tatum’s physical skill as his mental toughness, after overcoming a sluggish start to Game 6 when the Sixers had them on the ropes.
“(Tatum is) just a guy who doesn’t get too high or too low,” said Mazzulla.
“When you play like that and live like that, I think it works out for him... He’ll have the humility to just keep going.”
The Celtics and the Heat meet for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in Boston on Wednesday.
Jaylen Brown added 25 points for the second-seeded Celtics while Joel Embiid, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season, shot five-of-18 from the field and scored 15 points. He was held to two points in the second half.
Tobias Harris led third-seeded Philadelphia with 19 points. James Harden finished with nine points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“We played great all year and this loss absolutely diminishes what we did in some way,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said. “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.”
Rivers’ coaching record in Game 7s is now 6-10. That’s the most Game 7 defeats of any NBA coach in history and he remained without a Game 7 win on the road in his coaching career.
When asked if he was “planning to be” the 76ers coach in 2023-24, he said: “Yeah, I think I’ve got two years left (on my contract).”
But a follow-up question pointed out the recent run of teams parting ways with high-profile coaches, despite more recent success than Philadelphia can say it’s had.
The Phoenix Suns fired Monty Williams on Saturday, two years after they were in the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors let go of Nick Nurse, who guided them to the title in 2019, and the Milwaukee Bucks fired Mike Budenholzer just two seasons after they won the title together.
“Yeah, no one’s safe in our business, and I get that,” Rivers said.
Meanwhile, Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant, 23, is under scrutiny from the NBA again after he flashed an object that looked like a gun in a carefree manner during an Instagram Live video posted over the weekend.
The video, which appeared to be posted Saturday, came just over two months after the NBA suspended him for displaying a gun in a live Instagram video filmed at a nightclub near Denver. He expressed remorse then, saying the gun did not belong to him and that he would be better.
On Sunday, the Grizzlies said in a statement that they had suspended Morant from all team activities pending the league’s review of the new video. REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES