Jayson Tatum and the Celtics host the 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday. Boston is just 7-9 in its last 16 playoff games in Boston. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

BOSTON — Joe Mazzulla’s Game 7 experience has been as an assistant coach, including last year when the Celtics won two of them on their way to the NBA Finals.

One of them was a 28-point blowout.

The other was a one-possession game in the final seconds.

“We know how to win easy and we know how to battle to the death,” the rookie head coach said Saturday as he prepared for his first winner-take-all game as the No. 1 guy. “Definitely looking forward to Game 7.”

The Celtics will meet the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday for the last remaining spot in the NBA’s final four. It’s just the second series to reach a seventh game so far this postseason.

“We know what we have to do,” said Sixers center Joel Embiid, who was crowned as the NBA MVP during the series. “It’s going to be fun. Game 7. That’s what we play, for these types of games.”


The Celtics earned the home-court advantage by finishing three games ahead of Philadelphia in the standings; Boston also won three of the four matchups in the regular season. (The winner of Sunday’s game will also have home-court edge in the NBA Finals, if they can eliminate Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.)

But playing at the TD Garden hasn’t been such an advantage for Boston: The Celtics have gone just 7-9 in their last 16 home playoff games – a far cry from the days when playing on the parquet was almost a sure thing.

Boston swingman Jaylen Brown has heard the complaints from fans who’ve watched the team cough up big leads and give away games in both playoff series so far this postseason.

And the feeling is mutual.

“Celtics fans, they love to call us out, right? So I’m gonna call you guys out this time,” Brown said after the Celtics won in Philadelphia on Thursday night to force a seventh game. “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 gonna need every bit of it. So I’m calling you guys out. Let’s make sure the Garden is ready to go.”

WITH TWO WORDS, Marcus Smart raised some eyebrows after the Celtics’ Game 6 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday.


Mazzulla had made a key adjustment, starting Robert Williams III instead of Derrick White. It worked, fueling Boston to its best defensive performance of the playoffs. But in praising Mazzulla’s adjustment, Smart also acknowledged the criticism his coach has been taking during his first playoff run.

“I know he’s been killed a lot,” Smart said. “Rightfully so.”

It was certainly an unusual remark made from a player about their coach. But the relationship between Mazzulla and his Celtics players is also unique.

Smart meant no malice behind his words. The point guard clarified them Saturday, and reiterated how the Celtics are operating in a collaborative environment, one that Mazzulla has been fostering since he took the job suddenly in September. Mazzulla makes the final decisions, but the Celtics – who are experienced in these playoff moments – are there to help their rookie head coach. And then there’s the two-way street of accountability that came out publicly.

It’s come out in different ways. When Mazzulla didn’t call a timeout on the final play of the Celtics’ overtime loss to the 76ers in Game 4, he told the team he made a mistake during film the next day. Then came Smart’s comment after Game 6.

So, what did Smart mean when he said the criticism of Mazzulla has been warranted?


“Rightfully so in the matter of the fact of, just like us, when we go out there and we don’t play as good a game, or we don’t do things that we know we’re capable of or we should be doing, we get held accountable,” Smart said. “Joe’s not on the court. So he gets held accountable differently than we do, and that’s with certain things that he might do or might not do.

“But at the end of the day, it’s his decision. If it works, we don’t say nothing. If it doesn’t, then obviously you have to look at it. That’s the fun of taking the criticism and moving on, being coachable, being able to learn. The great players, the great coaches, they’re able to learn. Even if they make a mistake, they don’t let it deter him. They keep going and they learn from it.”

DERRICK WHITE has had a breakthrough season. He started 70 games in the regular season, then he started each of the Celtics’ first 11 playoff games. But when he was asked to come off the bench for Game 6, he didn’t mind.

“(Mazzulla) called me, said they were gonna go with Rob, and I was all for it,” White said.

Like the rest of the team, White understands Williams’ importance and impact for the Celtics. The lineup change meant a reduced role for White, but it didn’t matter to him.

“I’m not entitled to that spot,” White said. “If it’s what’s best for the team we go with that. Rob’s a great player, so I was with it. … I’ve always just been it’s all about the team. It’s not about me. It’s been that way all year, so whatever the team needs, I’m all in.”

SUNDAY’S GAME 7 is nothing new for Smart, who’s played in six of them with the Celtics, winning five. He knows what it takes.

“We all know it’s an elimination game for both teams,” Smart said. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s an even 0-0 series. One win is all you need and it’s going to come down to who wants it more. It’s going to be a bloodfest.”

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