BOSTON — Kyrie Irving saw the play unfolding before the rest of the Boston Celtics’ bench, and his blazer-clad arm shot skyward, requesting the lob that would soon follow.
The Celtics were breaking out in transition late in the first half of Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers. As Marcus Morris dribbled down the right side of the floor in front of Irving, the All-Star point guard’s eyes were locked on Jaylen Brown sprinting on the opposite side of the court with only JJ Redick between the Boston players.
So as Morris reached the foul line and lofted the ball toward the rim, Irving shuffled a couple of steps closer to the baseline then crouched a bit on the left knee that required surgery last month and ended his 2017-18 season. It was an injury that was supposed to squash any remaining hopes of an extended postseason stay for these injury-ravaged Celtics.
Then, Brown — a game-time decision with the sore hamstring that kept him out of Game 1 — rose up and threw down a two-handed slam that threatened to dislodge TD Garden from its foundation. It capped a violent and completely improbable late-first-half run that spearheaded Boston’s comeback from as much as a 22-point deficit.
And it simply felt like there was no way the Celtics were not going to complete their comeback.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored a team-high 21 points, while Terry Rozier put up 20 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds as the Celtics overcame the big deficit and then found the energy for one more fourth-quarter burst en route to a 108-103 triumph.
The Celtics lead the series 2-0. Game 3 is Saturday in Philadelphia.
Boston outscored Philadelphia 50-20 during one 16-minute stretch spanning from midway through the second quarter to late in the third frame. What made it all the more wild was that it seemingly came out of nowhere for a Boston team that needed nearly the first 18 minutes of the game to total 26 points — then essentially doubled their output over the final 6:20 of the half.
The Sixers had promised they wouldn’t shoot as poorly as they did in Game 1, and, true to their word, they blitzed Boston with a 3-point barrage. Redick scored the first eight points of the game and hit three first-quarter 3-pointers as the Sixers opened a double-digit advantage.
It only ballooned from there.
But these Celtics just don’t ever go away, no matter the adversity. Boston got an unexpected offensive boost from Marcus Smart (19 points overall on 6-of-13 shooting) in the first half, and it allowed them to hang around until things started firing.
Brown scored 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting over 25 minutes in a reserve role after gaining late clearance to return. He was far from 100 percent and looked a step slow at times, but he chased down a steal and finished with a loud dunk just 36 seconds into his first shift, adrenaline carrying him early before the Celtics leaned on healthy bodies late in the game.
Redick scored a game-high 23 points, while Robert Covington added 22. Joel Embiid finished with 20 points but on 8-of-22 shooting.
Ben Simmons finished with one point on 0-for-4 shooting with seven assists.