Key details on Game 5:
- Dominant performances by Embiid and Maxey lead Sixers to 3-2 series lead.
- The Sixers received key contributions up and down the roster.
- Series shifts to Philadelphia as 76ers are on the brink of their first Conference Finals appearance of the Joel Embiid era.
BOSTON – Coming into this Conference Semifinals series, the Boston Celtics were viewed as the deeper, more complete team, capable of winning games with multiple different players stepping up, and by dominating on either side of the court.
The Sixers, by contrast, would win based off of individual brilliance, with enough shooting around Joel Embiid and James Harden to be virtually unstoppable on the right night.
The first four games of the series mostly followed that script, with each team taking their own distinct path to the 2-2 tie. In Boston's two wins not only did the two Jays (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) go off, but their defense was suffocating, which fueled their devastating transition attack, all of which was aided by their ability to go eight players deep without having to contend with the limitations of a one-way player.
The Sixers, by contrast, were largely winning by the individual brilliance of James Harden. Sure, Embiid had moments of greatness after returning from his sprained right knee in Game 2 – he was dominant defensively in Game 3, and a walking, 7-foot bucket to start Game 4 – but the two Sixers' victories in games 1 and 4 were largely driven by James Harden, who had two of the best games of his long NBA playoff career. The attention he received created easy shots for the most accurate three-point shooting team in the league, and propelled the Sixers to a 2-2 split in the first four games of the series.
Which set the stage for the pivotal Game 5 in Boston.
The Sixers had been in this spot before, heading on the road in a series tied 2-2. It hasn't gone well. Just last year, they traveled to Miami after having won two straight games following Embiid's return, and got smacked by Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker and the Heat, losing by 35. A few years earlier they traveled to Toronto in a 2-2 series and lost by 36. In fact, according to Mike Lynch of Sports-Reference, the Sixers had never won a road Game 5 in a series tied 2-2 in franchise history. This was the plot to a movie that we've seen play out before.
Except this time was different.