Jason Tatum delivers late as Celtics  beat Sixers, force Game 7

NOT DONE YET: The Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum (0) celebrates a basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Philadelphia. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/TNS

PHILADELPHIA — For 44 minutes on Thursday night, Jayson Tatum was lost.

The Celtics star was rattled. In one of the biggest games of his life, Tatum looked like he was about to throw Boston’s season away. Literally. Turnovers mounted. He couldn’t buy a bucket.

Until he could.

With the Celtics’ seismic championship expectations seemingly weighing on his shoulders, Tatum came through when he was desperately needed. He missed 14 of his first 15 shots, but kept shooting. And he willed the Celtics like he’s done so many times, making four 3-pointers in the final four minutes. The Celtics committed 17 turnovers, they blew a 16-point lead. Their season looked like it was crumbling. But Tatum saved their season, pushing them to 95-86 victory in Game 6.

There will be a Game 7 on Sunday at TD Garden. Somehow, someway.

The Celtics trailed by two with less than five minutes to play when Tatum (19 points, nine rebounds, six assists) found life. He hit his first 3-pointer of the game to give Boston the lead, then after Joel Embiid’s shot rimmed out, Tatum got Tyrese Maxey on a switch, then drilled a stepback triple over him to give the C’s a four-point lead with 3:35 left, forcing a Sixers timeout.

Maxey (26 points) made one of two free throws to cut Boston’s lead to three before Marcus Smart’s drive put the C’s up five with 2:38 left. On the ensuing possession, Al Horford was whistled for a foul, but the Celtics challenged the call and it was successful. The Celtics then forced a stop before Tatum delivered a dagger 3-pointer to give them an eight-point with 1:53 left. He hit another with 37.6 seconds left to officially seal it.

The Celtics led by as many as 16 midway through the second quarter. They had a double-digit lead in the third. But then the Sixers surged. Tatum looked ready to melt down. And the Celtics couldn’t hold on to the ball. They committed five turnovers in the period, but it felt like more. The Sixers took advantage.

Tatum missed his first 11 shots. He finally made one with 8:34 left in the third quarter, but he continued missing, he continued losing the ball. The Celtics did, too. Moments later, he missed a wide-open look from deep.

The game seemed to turn on one sequence. Jaylen Brown (17 points) was blocked at the rim by Embiid, which led to a Sixers run-out. Georges Niang drilled a corner 3-pointer to cut the Celtics’ lead to two. Then Tatum coughed up another turnover. Embiid was fouled and made a pair of free throws to tie the game. Then the Sixers took their first lead of the game with two James Harden free throws.

Derrick White responded with a 3-pointer, but the Sixers kept coming. They went up 71-66 before Brown’s three-point play. The Celtics tied the game at 71 but Brown was caught on a pump fake from Harden for his fourth foul. The Sixers went ahead by two entering the fourth, all the momentum on Philly’s side.

Smart led the Celtics with 22 points.

Embiid scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Sixers.