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Celtics beat 76ers to force Game 7


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jayson Tatum humbly believes he is one of the best basketball players in the NBA and not even a lengthy streak of missed shots in a win-or-else Game 6 could shake his faith.

Sometimes, though, a pep talk straight from the heart helps even the most confident stars. Boston rookie coach Joe Mazzulla pulled the forward aside in a late timeout and didn't draw a play or tell Tatum to keep shooting and soon the buckets would fall.

His message was more simple.

“I love you,” Mazzulla told Tatum. “That's a pretty powerful statement.”

Tatum rewarded his coach's love with decisive 3-pointers straight through the heart of a Philadelphia comeback that pushed the Celtics past the 76ers 95-86 on Thursday night to send the Eastern Conference semifinals back to Boston for Game 7.

The defending conference champs are in familiar territory. Boston trailed 3-2 last season in the second round against Milwaukee before it won Game 6 on the road and the clincher at home.

Game 7 is Sunday. The winner of the Miami-New York semifinal awaits the Celtics or 76ers.

Tatum, who averaged 30.1 points in the regular season, kept his confidence high. He missed 14 of his first 15 shots overall from the floor — and his first six 3s — and his 3 1/2-quarter ineffectiveness was a key reason the Celtics squandered a 16-point lead.

With a shot at their first conference final since 2001 at stake, the Sixers slogged through the first half before Joel Embiid flashed his MVP form and rallied the Sixers to a fourth-quarter lead.

Tyrese Maxey hit two free throws with 5:25 left for an 83-81 edge.

And that was it for Philly in yet another postseason home crusher.

Tatum buried one 3 for the 84-83 lead and a second that made it 87-83 and put the Celtics in firm control of Game 6. Tatum stuck it to the 76ers with one final 3-pointer for a 95-84 lead.

Embiid and Tyrese Maxey each scored 26 points for the 76ers.

“If I have to go to war, Game 7 in Boston, I would want to go with this group,” Maxey said. “I know we've got some fighters, I know we've got some resilient guys. I'm ready to get it on.”

76ers coach Doc Rivers has blown three 3-1 series leads over his playoff career. While the 76ers only led 3-2, this is their second loss at home in the series.

And more ominous history looms for Rivers. The 2008 NBA championship coach with Boston, Rivers has lost nine times in a Game 7, four more than any other head coach.

The Sixers unraveled in the fourth after a rally in the third — keyed by two pivotal 3s by Georges Niang — and after Embiid’s pull-up jumper tied it 81-all, the 76ers didn’t make a bucket over the final 6:13 of the game.

The Sixers could not close in the close-out quarter and missed 15 of 20 shots and all eight 3s in the decisive fourth.

“We stopped moving the ball,” Embiid said. “I don't think I touched the ball the last 4 minutes of the game. Missed a lot of good looks. I didn't touch the ball, though.”