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NBA Playoffs Conference Semifinals top performers: Tatum goes for 51

In the sole Game 7 of the conference semifinals, the Celtics prevailed over the 76ers thanks to an all-time 51-point performance from superstar Jayson Tatum.

The Celtics lost the opening game of the series and then trailed 3-2, but last season’s losing finalists won the final two games to end the Sixers’ Championship bid. 

Philadelphia started Game 7 strongly and held a six-point lead at the end of the first quarter in Boston. 

The Celtics responded and led at halftime before producing a sensational third quarter that effectively ended the contest as they outscored the visitors 33-10 at TD Garden. 

There were a few Boston players who caught the eye on Sunday as they reached the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four years but one man stood out above the rest - Jayson Tatum.

Tatum sets Game 7 record

A 50-point game at any stage of the season is a special occasion, to record one in the NBA Playoffs is incredible but to do so in a Game 7 is virtually unheard of. 

Golden State’s Stephen Curry became the first man to score 50 points in a Game 7 in his side’s win over Sacramento Kings this season but his record stood for a little over two weeks as Tatum hit 51 on Sunday on 60.7% shooting, becoming the first player in Celtics history to put up multiple 50-point play-off games in the process. 

In the first half, Tatum scored 25 points to keep Boston in touch as Philadelphia looked to take control early on and he then helped his team pull clear in the third quarter with 17 points - outscoring the Sixers by seven himself. 

Tatum shot 60% from three-point range as he was successful with six of his 10 attempts and he was also efficient from the foul line, making 11 of his 14 attempts, while adding five assists. 

The 25-year-old also made an impact in defense as he had two steals for the third game in a row, while he had 13 rebounds as he recorded his ninth double-double of the NBA Playoffs 2023. 

Tatum was removed from the action with three minutes of the fourth quarter remaining and received a standing ovation for the Boston fans at TD Garden. 

The forward won the inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP award last year and he is favoured to take that honour this year ahead of the Celtics’ best-of-seven series with Miami Heat.

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Horford shuts down MVP Embiid

Tatum understandably grabbed the headlines after Boston’s blowout Game 7 victory but he wasn’t the only Celtic who managed to impress on Sunday, with veteran Al Horford playing a key role. 

Horford was tasked with keeping tabs on newly-crowned MVP Joel Embiid and he managed to help limit the Philadelphia star to just 15 points as the Cameroonian center shot just 5-for-18 from the field. 

“I was just out there trying to fight for my life and trying to make an impact and I understood in this series, it wasn’t going to be so much my offense. It was more defensively that I had to take that challenge and defend him [Embiid] for us to have a chance,” Horford said after the game, as reported by SB Nation Celtics Blog. 

Horford may have been focussing on his defensive efforts but he was also able to make an impact in offense when it counted, sinking one of his two three pointers at the end of the first quarter to cut Philadelphia’s lead to six points. 

Marcus Smart impressed for the Celtics defensively as he played a vital role in guarding James Harden

The 2018 MVP had 42 points in Philly’s Game 4 victory but was limited to just nine in Game 7 on 3-for-11 shooting, and it was largely down to the tireless efforts of Smart that Harden was simply unable to find any kind of rhythm on Sunday night. 

Miami Heat await Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals as the two teams face off at this stage for the third time in four years. 

In 2020, Miami claimed a 4-2 series win and last season the Celtics won 4-3 before falling short in the Finals Series against Golden State. 

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