BOSTON – The 76ers’ best season since 2000-01 is over .
The Boston Celtics closed out the Eastern Conference semifinal, four games to one, with a 114-112 victory over the Sixers in Game 5 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Boston will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals for the second straight year. Game 1 is expected to be 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
On this night, the Sixers couldn’t overcome their Achilles’ heels — turnovers and missed opportunities.
They committed 17 turnovers in the game and four in the fourth quarter. Joel Embiid also missed an opportunity to knot the score with 12.5 seconds left. That forced the Sixers to put the Celtics on the foul line and they didn’t panic, making 3 of 4 down the stretch to win the game.
The Celtics scored the go-ahead points after a turnover by Dario Saric with 37.8 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Jayson Tatum scored a cutting layup with 22.5 points to play.
Philly had a chance to respond following a timeout. Right before the play began, Embiid tossed his face mask.
“The way I thought about it, it was like ‘This could be the last possession of the season,’ ” the all-star center said. “So I need to be on my best. I felt like although it was against the doctors and all those guys, I kind of tossed it to the side.”
Then he went on to miss a driving layup with 12.5 seconds left. He grabbed the offensive rebound and missed the tip-in at the 11 second mark. Embiid grabbed the rebound again, but lost the ball on the baseline with 10.8 seconds left. The Celtics were awarded the ball.
“The refs had a great game,” Embiid said. “I thought they were great tonight. But I thought there was something on that last play. But you can’t really do anything about it.”
Terry Rozier made a pair of foul shots with 9 seconds left to give Boston a 113-109 lead. JJ Redick came back and drained a three-pointer with 3.8 seconds left to close the gap to a point. That’s when the Sixers put Marcus Smart on the foul line. He missed the first one before hitting the second with 2.4 seconds left.
Ben Simmons’ desperation heave was intercepted by Smart to seal the victory for Boston. The reserve guard threw the ball in the air as time expired.
“It [stinks], but we got to learn from it and come back and do better,” Embiid said.
“I feel like we had more [to give],” he added. “We got a lot of talented guys. We didn’t play our best. Some games, some guys were playing well. So games they don’t. … But we committed a lot of mistakes. We got to learn from it.
“But we definitely have more to show.”
After the game, Simmons walked up to Embiid, showed him his hands, and said ‘There’s going to be a lot of rings on these fingers.”
Embiid finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks. Dario Saric also had 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and a block. Simmons had 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and one block.
Embiid wore his face mask for the eighth consecutive game after returning from suffering an orbital bone fracture near his left eye. On this night, however, he didn’t have to wear the lens that attached to the mask.
The Sixers, however, get the satisfaction of posting a season to build upon.
They advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since losing to the Celtics in seven games in 2012. That came after the Sixers produced the most regular-season wins since going 56-26 during the 2000-01 campaign. This season, Philly finished 52-30 and secured the conference’s third seed after posting a league-record 16 straight victories to end the season.
Jayson Tatum paced the Celtics with 25 points. Jaylen Brown added 24 points. Brown started at shooting guard after coming off the bench in the previous three games because of a strained right hamstring.
The Sixers lived in the paint for the second straight game.
They had an 18-14 lead with 4:33 left in the first quarter. Fourteen of those points came in the paint. Simmons had six of them on 3-for-4 shooting. Saric and T.J McConnell had five points apiece. One of McConnell’s baskets came on a three-pointer.
The Sixers ended up attempting only three three-pointers in the first quarter, making the one by McConnell. They were 9-for-16 on two-point shots and trailed 25-24 at the end of the quarter.
They went on to play through five lead changes before the Sixers took a 46-42 cushion on Robert Covington’s layup with 5:02 before intermission.
Smart responded with five straight points to give the Celtics a one-point advantage. The lead changed two more times before the Celtics took a 61-52 lead into intermission.
Boston closed with a 19-6 run. It was capped by a three-pointer by Rozier. The point guard caught the ball at the top of the key and juked Covington, who leaped. Then Rozier drained a wide-open three at the buzzer.
Embiid (12 points), Saric (10), and Simmons (10) all scored in double digits in the first quarter, while McConnell had nine points.