The Boston Celtics are moving on to the Eastern Conference finals after completing a 4-1 series win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Boston Celtics 76ers
Boston Celtics players Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart celebrate during Boston’s Game 5 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. (Image: Brian Babineau/Getty Images)

After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, the Celtics lost Game 4 in Philadelphia. And while it might be hyperbole to have called Game 5 a must win for Boston given their lead in the series, the Celtics would have been playing with fire if they had let the Sixers crawl back into contention and play another game on their home court.

Game 5 Goes Down to Wire

The series was far closer than the final margin would suggest, and Game 5 exemplified that. Both teams made runs that could have put the game away in the fourth quarter, with the 76ers holding a four-point lead with less than two minutes to play. But the Celtics would score eight consecutive points to take a 113-109 lead with just 9.8 seconds remaining.

Still, the game was far from over. JJ Redick threw in a 26-foot three-pointer with just under five seconds left to get the Sixers back within a single point. Philadelphia then intentionally fouled Marcus Smart to send him to the free throw line.

Smart missed the first attempt, then made the second despite attempting to bang it off the rim, giving the Celtics a two-point advantage. That left Philadelphia with one last chance to throw the ball the length of the court and either tie or win the game. But it was Smart himself who intercepted the pass from Ben Simmons, ending the game and sending Boston off to the conference finals with a 114-112 victory.

“That’s a Marcus Smart sequence,” said Celtics guard Jaylen Brown after the game. “If it came down to one guy coming up with [the ball], everybody’s got their money on Smart.”

Celtics Succeed Despite Injuries

The Celtics weren’t picked by many to get by the 76ers, who finished the season on a 16-game winning streak. While Philadelphia was on the rise, Boston was playing without Gordon Hayward, who fractured his tibia in the first game of the season, as well as Kyrie Irving, who underwent knee surgery on March 24. That led oddsmakers to make the 76ers the clear favorite in the series despite the fact that the Celtics had home court advantage.

“In all honesty, people from the outside probably expected not much out of us,” said Celtics forward Al Horford after the game. “I’ve seen the way the way these guys prepare. They want to be great, and they understand it’s bigger than them.”

Once again, Boston will have home court advantage in the Eastern Conference finals. And once again, they’ll play the role of underdog, this time against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ladbrokes has installed the Cavs as a 1/3 favorite over the Celtics, who are listed at 12/5 to win the series. But for Boston, this will be just one more opportunity for the team to accomplish something that the rest of the world thinks is beyond them.

“After Gordon, Kyrie, Marcus and Theis went down, no one expected us to go to the Eastern Conference finals,” Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum said after Wednesday’s game. “We just continue to prove people wrong and have fun while we’re doing it.”

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