There is nothing better in the NBA than a Game 7. The Celtics and Sixers have battled to get to this point, and Sunday’s final game should be no different.
There have been moments where the marquee players in this series have disappeared, both literally and figuratively. A sprained knee kept Joel Embiid out of Game 1, which the Sixers stole thanks to a 45-point explosion from James Harden. Harden scored another 42 in Game 4, but shot a combined 20 percent on 44 shots in Games 2, 3, and 6, all Sixers losses.
MORE: When is Celtics-76ers Game 7?
For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum has had a very up-and-down series. He’s shot just 33.3 percent over the course of the past two games. Jaylen Brown has been more consistent, but the shots haven’t come for him later in games. His scoring has gone from 9.0 points in the first quarter to 4.3 in the second, 6.0 in the third, and 3.8 in the fourth.
Whichever team gets their stars to show up is going to be the one that stays alive. Here are some other things to look for.
Can Jayson Tatum overcome the defensive pressure?
Tatum was on pace for one of the worst performances ever by a star player in an elimination game, shooting 1-of-14 midway through the fourth quarter of Game 6. He salvaged that performance with three 3-pointers late, but it highlighted a troubling trend of not playing well in this series.
That has at least been partially explained by the defensive coverage that the Sixers are using against him. They’ve incorporated a ton of peel switching, having the closest defender switch onto him on his drives to the basket.
The 76ers incorporated this peel switching technique on the first Celtics possession of the game, having Tyrese Maxey switch onto Tatum on his drive into the paint. That has hampered Tatum’s ability to get to the rim, and the Sixers have generally done a great job of crowding him when he does try to get downhill.
The defensive attention that Tatum has gotten has given his teammates mismatches and openings which Tatum has been good about setting up. He’s averaged five assists for the series. But he will have to figure out a way to get downhill and beat that strategy.
Will P.J. Tucker shoot the ball?
The Celtics made a key adjustment in Game 6, starting Robert Williams III alongside Al Horford. Williams “guarded” P.J. Tucker, which in practice meant completely ignoring Tucker and helping on any shots near the rim.
The best way for the Sixers to combat this strategy is to have Tucker shoot the wide open corner 3’s that the Celtics’ defense is conceding. Tucker tried, shooting seven times from deep. That is the most attempts he’s taken since December 2021. But he hit on only two of those attempts, meaning that he didn’t make the Celtics pay.
The paint is too clogged for the rest of the Sixers team when Tucker allows himself to be unguarded. He must make that Celtics strategy unviable by hitting more open 3s.
MORE: Remembering Allen Iverson’s iconic 2001 Sixers team
Can the Sixers overcome their narratives?
There are quite a few narratives that will either be crushed or reinforced based on what happens in this game.
Doc Rivers blowing series leads
Rivers has infamously blown three different 3-1 leads, in 2003, 2015, and 2020. He’s also blown three 3-2 leads, in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Given that the Sixers were up 3-2 at one point, he could add to that legacy.
James Harden disappearing in the playoffs
Harden has been a notoriously poor playoff performer. He completely disappeared in last year’s Sixers elimination game, scoring just 11 points and turning it over four times.
That continued a trend of troubling elimination game performances. Harden has won all of the individual accolades, but he’s been to the Finals only once and never won a title.
Joel Embiid’s lack of success in later playoff rounds
As good as Embiid is, he hasn’t really tasted playoff success past the first round. This is his sixth straight season making the playoffs. He’s made it to the second round in five of those years, but never farther.
Embiid is always going to hear from the critics until he can overcome that lack of playoff success. Were he to lose this game, it would give them even more fodder.
Celtics vs. Sixers Game 7 Prediction
The play from both teams has been extremely uneven, so it’s hard to come up with a prediction. And truthfully, in a Game 7, you can throw some of the analysis out the window. It all comes down to shotmaking at the end of the day, even moreso now with how reliant teams have become on 3s.
The Celtics should be favored, as they’re playing at home and have been the better team during the regular season.
I still like the Sixers though for a variety of reasons. Despite all the criticisms levied against him, Doc Rivers has done a solid job coaching in this series. His adjustments have given his team the best chance to win.
The Sixers also have the best player in this series in Joel Embiid. He’s been massively impactful as a rim defender, and he’s leading all players with 27.6 points per game. Embiid should be able to slay those playoff demons and carry them to a win.
Prediction: Sixers win.