Sixers vs. Celtics Game 5: One More Win
The House Game?!
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
In sports, we all dream. The perfect moment for our favorite players. The greatest ways a team can win a game. These almost exclusively turn out to be nothing but a figment of our imagination.
But tonight was different -- because the Sixers put together what is just about a dream showing.
The Sixers defeated the Boston Celtics on the road, 115-103, to take a 3-2 series lead in the second round. On Thursday night in South Philadelphia, a win would send them to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time… in my life. I’m sorry if that makes you feel old.
Game 5s on the road have typically been where disaster strikes for the Sixers. It’s a point at which they succumb to the pressure and the superior experience of their opponent. They get completely outclassed in every facet of the game.
But tonight? The Sixers did the outclassing. From wire to wire they dominated the Celtics, who on their home floor looked nervous and unprepared for the moment. The Sixers, meanwhile, began to boast an unspoken, unbreakable sense of confidence as soon as the game began.
If there was ever a Big Boy Win for these Sixers, it was this one. This game, perhaps more than any other over the last two decades, truly catapulted them into true championship contender status (the Sixers are tied for the best odds to win the NBA Finals at the time of this writing according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook). It took some shrewd maneuvering, the main cogs doing their jobs and an unlikely hero emerging.
Danuel House Jr. entered Game 5 with just 19 seconds of non-garbage-time playing time in this series. Sixers Head Coach Doc Rivers, who shortened his rotation to eight players in Game 4, decided to go back to nine. But instead of reinserting Jalen McDaniels, he called upon House Jr., a decision he credited to his “gut.”
“He was fantastic tonight,” Rivers said. “You go with a gut.”
Rivers said that before the game, his staff was deliberating between House Jr. and two other players (the guess here: McDaniels and Shake Milton) as options to be the ninth man. House Jr., he said, was not his initial choice.
“But I just picked him,” Rivers said, describing a last-minute change of heart. “I thought we needed size and we needed athleticism.”
House Jr. scored 10 massive points, shooting 5-5 from inside the arc, and pulled down five rebounds in 14 strong minutes of play. In addition to Rivers, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey each went out of their way after the game to praise House Jr.’s performance.
“It was a joy to be out there, to be honest,” House Jr. said.
The surprise star leads the story. But that story does not have a happy ending without the efforts of Embiid, Harden, Maxey and Tobias Harris -- each of the Sixers’ four cornerstones came up large in this one.
Maxey dominated from start to finish, knocking down six threes en route to a 30-point game. After his massive struggles early in the series, he had what Harden called “his game.” Maxey was relentless, as he and Embiid seemed to respond to every Celtics run with a big shot to calm things down.
One play stands out: early in the fourth quarter, Jayson Tatum drove to the rim and converted an and-one against House Jr. After being silent for most of the night, the crowd in Boston mustered up as much energy as they could to try to help swing the momentum. It was without question the loudest moment in the arena all night. And what did Maxey do? He calmly knocked down a three, instantly quieting one of the most boisterous fanbases in basketball. It was another instance of Maxey playing beyond his age -- when you need a shot like that, you usually don’t call on the 22-year old. But Maxey is different. And so, against a team that has stifled him all season, Maxey was able to put together a performance that he and the Sixers needed desperately.
“I just started out extremely aggressive,” Maxey said. “Jo, James, Tobias, they told me the shots I’ve been shooting just haven’t been falling… but they’re going to fall.”
While those players showered Maxey with praise, they each had big games in their own right. Harris had a double-double just moments into the third quarter. Harden was an extraordinary facilitator who Rivers said “called a perfect game.”
Embiid was his MVP self -- even when his shots didn’t fall, he was able to draw fouls at will and protect the rim at an elite level. His signature play came on an epic chase-down block of Jaylen Brown in the fourth quarter, a moment that punctuated a dominant two-way performance.
What may be more exciting for the Sixers than what just happened is what could come next. The Sixers will have a chance to finally get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, clinch home-court advantage for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs, and suddenly become the favorite to win it all. That chance will arrive in the Wells Fargo Center, in front of a crowd that may reach levels of mania unlike any these players have ever seen.
Ending the 22-year drought without a Conference Finals appearance. Vanquish the demons of Al Horford, the Fultz trade and the Boston Celtics. Earn a chance to host the NBA Finals. It’s all on the table in fewer than 48 hours. One more win.