Brett Brown was already walking off. The shot made by Marco Belinelli in the right corner - in front of the Philadelphia bench - to finish regulation had just gone through, and Brown was certain it was a 3-pointer that had given the Sixers a one-point win in a must-have Game 3 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Only, it wasn't a win. Belinelli's foot was well over the 3-point arc, meaning his shot had tied the game at 89 and given Philadelphia overtime, not a much-needed victory.
CLUTCH pic.twitter.com/gYToFqC7LH- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 5, 2018
The Celtics won in overtime, 101-98, putting Boston on the brink of a second straight Eastern Conference finals despite missing top scorer Kyrie Irving and having been without Jaylen Brown for Game 1.
It was a tough win for Boston, its first on the road of this postseason, and plenty of credit belongs to Jayson Tatum (24 points on 11-for-17 shooting), Terry Rozier (18 points), the clutch play of Al Horford and, most of all, to coach Brad Stevens, who called two critical, well-placed timeouts and drew up two spectacular closing plays, in regulation and overtime.
But there were five plays that defined the inability of the Sixers to close this game, plays that Philly must learn from in order to take the next step toward being a true contender...
1. With just over 24 seconds to play in regulation and the score tied at 87, Brown declined to call a timeout to set up a play. Instead, he called out a play at halfcourt that had JJ Redick in the high left wing looking to make a pass. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons collided just under the 3-point line, and Simmons kept moving toward the basket.
But Redick was just then dropping a bounce pass to Simmons out at the top of the key. Simmons was not looking for it, and it was scooped up by Rozier, who fed Brown for a layup and an 89-87 lead.
Rozier finds Brown on the break to take the lead with 1.7 to go!!! pic.twitter.com/fXVCahEHcR- Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 5, 2018
2. The Sixers held a 98-96 lead with 52 seconds left in overtime and the Celtics struggling for offense. Embiid had the ball on the high left side, and Belinelli came around for a handoff. But the ball was fumbled, and Embiid recovered.
Still, after the recovery, he hurried a floater of a pass to Belinelli. Rozier got a hand on it, recovered, drove down the floor and found Horford, who was fouled and made one of the two shots.
3. With 20.8 seconds remaining in overtime, the Sixers had a 98-97 lead and the ball in Embiid's hands. Horford defended him well, forcing a fadeaway jumper out near the free-throw line. The shot missed, but Simmons was able to reach for the rebound with 18 seconds to go - meaning the shot clock was off and the Sixers were ahead.
Rather than pulling the ball out and forcing Boston to foul, Simmons went right back up with a four-foot floater. It rimmed off, and Marcus Morris grabbed the rebound, ending the Sixers' chance to milk the clock.
4. Coming out of a timeout at 8.4 seconds, and after Boston had nearly coughed up the ball on a turnover the previous possession, Stevens drew up one of his Midas-touch plays. The Celtics brought in a scrum of three offensive players (Brown, Horford and Tatum), then had them break out and force defensive switches. The biggest mismatch was Horford being left guarded by Robert Covington, who gives up an inch and about 30 pounds to Horford.
Inbounder Marcus Morris found Horford with a lob pass, and Horford finished. This might not seem to be such a poor play by the Sixers, except when you recognize that Boston had done much the same thing with 25 seconds in regulation, a play that had Brown draw a mismatch against Ersan Ilyasova out of a timeout. Tatum found him, and Brown finished to tie the game at 87.
Al for the lead!!! pic.twitter.com/qI45g4XauX- Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 5, 2018
5. This was the most egregious of the Sixers' errors: 6.0 seconds left in overtime, Celtics by one point and Simmons inbounding to Embiid. The pass was intercepted by Horford, highlighting a pair of mistakes.
First, Simmons' pass was not well executed and came with Horford still on Embiid's hip. Second, the screen by Belinelli in the lane that was supposed to spring Embiid free was weak. That's what gave Horford a good line on the ball. Horford made the layup and finished the scoring on this night.
And it may have finished the Sixers for this season.
Without question, tonight's @JetBlue Play of the Game goes to @Al_Horford, who gets the go-ahead bucket in OT, steals it on the other end, and hits his free throws to seal the deal. pic.twitter.com/8tCLOltaYn- Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 6, 2018
After the game, Brett Brown said he was not going to lean on youth as an excuse for the way the Sixers failed to close out what should have been a win. There's no doubt that Simmons and Embiid were frequently central to the late-game miscues. But that has not defined this series.
"This isn't entirely a youthful thing at all," Brown said. "Nobody write that. This is, the game of matchups hurt us... That's the story. Not the youth."
Hard to argue there, because there are core Celtics who are younger than the Sixers' Simmons-Embiid-Dario Saric trio. Tatum is one year and eight months younger than Simmons. Jaylen Brown is three months younger than Simmons. Rozier is a day younger than Embiid, and three weeks older than Saric.
Brown did speak of mental mistakes, and the opportunity to pick up pressure experience for players like Embiid and Simmons. That is the hope you can take from this series if you're a Philadelphia fan - the Sixers will be back on this stage in the short and long term, and lessons will be learned.
This likely won't define guys like Simmons and Embiid in the coming seasons. They've got time and should have plenty of opportunity to overcome a game like this.