PHILADELPHIA — Ten extra sights, sounds, and suppositions from the Celtics’ Game 6 win over the 76ers that kept their season alive for at least one more game …
▪ Marcus Smart had an eyebrow-raising line about coach Joe Mazzulla when he was asked about the decision to put Robert Williams back into the starting lineup.
“That just goes to show you Joe’s learning just like all of us,” Smart said. “I know he’s been killed a lot, rightfully so. He needs to make some adjustments, and he did that. And that’s all you can ask for.”
Wait, did Smart just say his coach has been rightfully blasted by critics? Well, technically he did. But the way he said it, it didn’t sound like that was the point he was trying to make. He was asked a follow-up for clarification.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Smart said. “Joe’s not perfect. He was put in a very tough situation this year, and he’s doing the best he can, and that’s all we can ask for. We’re going to continue to go out there and work our tails off for him just like he’s going to go out there and continue to work his tail off for us.”
▪ Speaking of Williams, the Celtics were absolutely thrilled to have the shot-swatting big man back in the starting lineup. It seemed as if they’d been hoping for this chance for quite some time.
“I was ecstatic,” Smart said.
“Huge,” Jayson Tatum said.
“It made a tremendous difference,” Jaylen Brown said.
▪ Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell lingered outside the Celtics locker room after Thursday’s win. Mitchell played with Smart, Tatum, Brown, and Derrick White at the World Cup two years ago, and he seems like a guy who just loves basketball, and now that his team is no longer playing, maybe he just wanted to watch.
Mitchell, for what it’s worth, is under contract for the next three seasons, including a player option in the final year. Still, his presence will create some good fodder.
▪ Life really moves fast in the playoffs. In Game 6, the Celtics trailed with less than five minutes left and their championship dreams were on the verge of being flattened. Then they won, and oddsmakers instantly made them NBA title favorites again.
▪ Brown was named Second Team All-NBA, which is significant because it makes him eligible to receive a five-year, $295 million super-max extension from the Celtics this summer, presumably removing drama surrounding his future with the team. Brown was asked about the situation following Game 6.
“Um, obviously that’s a tremendous honor,” he said, “but all of my focus right now is on just trying to help my team win and advance in the playoffs, and that’s what I’m currently focused on.”
It was unsurprising that he didn’t make any grand proclamations in this setting, and he hasn’t even been offered a super-max yet. But the vanilla comment won’t exactly soothe the nerves of Celtics fans who fear Brown may prefer to be the top dog elsewhere, regardless of money.
▪ I’m often asked if the grind of an NBA season takes a toll. The travel life isn’t luxurious, and there are tons of long nights. Like anything else, though, you adjust and it mostly becomes your normal.
But then there are times like Friday morning, when you call an Uber to go to the airport, look up from your iPhone, and realize the car is pulling into the Wells Fargo Center parking lot. Whoops. I still made my flight, thankfully. We just took the scenic route.
▪ Mazzulla stuck with a seven-man rotation Thursday, with Grant Williams and Sam Hauser the odd men out. These condensed groups always draw some attention, but the truth is that 8-10 minutes from an eighth man doesn’t make a ton of difference, especially with the longer timeouts during these national television games.
▪ Look, when TD Garden is truly buzzing, the atmosphere is probably the loudest and most intense in the NBA. But during these playoffs, something has just seemed a bit, well, muted.
It made some sense against the low-profile Hawks in the first round, but it was puzzling to see lower-energy crowds against the rival 76ers. Brown apparently has noticed it. After Game 6, he was asked a fairly boilerplate question about going home for Game 7. He seized the chance to issue a challenge.
“Celtics fans, they love to call us out, right?” he said. “So I’m going to call you guys out this time. Energy in the Garden has been OK at best, all playoffs. Game 7, if you’re there or if you’re not there, if you’re watching at a bar, if you’re watching down the street at a friend’s house, I don’t care. I need you to be up, I need you to come with the energy, because we’re going to need every bit of it.
“So I’m calling you guys out. Let’s make sure the Garden is ready to go.”
It’s safe to say that his impassioned plea will be shown on the Garden jumbotron prior to Game 7.
▪ In the moments after the Celtics’ big win, a large cluster of 76ers fans in the arena’s lower bowl were yelling and waving and trying to get the attention of someone named Jayson (or Jason)? Tatum wasn’t nearby, and why would these frustrated fans want to fawn over him, anyway?
Well, they didn’t. They were talking to Eagles Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, who had watched the game with his brother, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
▪ What did Smart think of Tatum’s powerful finish after his 1-for-14 start?
“He makes the big bucks for a reason.”