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Tipoff: 76ers hope to keep thwarting history in Game 5 vs. Celtics

By Kyle Hightower Associated Press

BOSTON – An improbable Eastern Conference finals rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers is in reach for the Boston Celtics.

The only thing delaying it is one more victory against a Philadelphia 76ers team intent on not becoming the latest to join a dubious NBA club.

Toronto was swept by Cleveland on Monday to become the 130th consecutive team in NBA history to fail to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Philadelphia is one loss away from becoming No. 131.

Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mill, who has been courtside for several Sixers games this series following his release from prison last month, is one of many hometown fans still hoping they can pull off the comeback.

“I represent the underdog season,” Mill told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We’re the underdogs right now. We’re in a (bad) position at 3-1, but I definitely believe we can make a comeback.”

Philadelphia used its toughness, a little trash talk and 19 big points from T.J. McConnell in its 103-92 victory in Game 4 Monday to finally produce a glint of the basketball it displayed in easing past Miami in the first round.

Harnessing that energy will be paramount in Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday. The Celtics have yet to lose a game at home this postseason (6-0).

“Obviously, after 3-0, we (found) a way how to beat them,” McConnell said. “We took the taste of how it feels on the court after losing. From 3-0, now it’s 3-1 We need to play play-by-play.”

Game 4 certainly felt the most like a throwback to the Celtics-76ers battles in the 1980s thanks to an increased level of chirpiness between players that produced some face-to-face moments and multiple technical fouls.

Boston’s Al Horford, who has scored in double figures in each of the Celtics 11 games this postseason (with five double-doubles), said more aggression is expected from a team in the Sixers’ predicament.

“We have to protect our home,” Horford said. “We were able to steal one (in Game 3). They protected their home court (Monday). We have to go home and protect ours.”

A closer look at Wednesday’s Game 5:

Celtics at 76ers

Celtics lead 3-1. Game 5, 5 p.m. PDT, TNT

Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) makes a dribble move against Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick (17) in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Monday, April 30, 2018, in Boston. The Celtics won 117-101.  (Elise Amendola / AP)
Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier (12) makes a dribble move against Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick (17) in the second half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Monday, April 30, 2018, in Boston. The Celtics won 117-101. (Elise Amendola / AP)

NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics are on the verge of a rematch with the Cavaliers in the conference finals. They struggled to match the 76ers physicality in Game 4 but return to the friendly confines of TD Garden with another chance to close out the series. Boston is unbeaten at home during these playoffs. In their two home victories over the Sixers, the Celtics have averaged 47 percent shooting from the field and hit 32 3-pointers.

KEEP AN EYE ON: McConnell. He gained a lot of confidence after being inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4. It will force the Celtics to account for him more, which could open the floor for his teammates.

INJURY UPDATE: Celtics coach Brad Stevens didn’t have a status update on reserve guard Shane Larkin (left shoulder) on Tuesday. If it’s out Wednesday night, Boston would be down to an eight-man rotation.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Sixers obviously must win to keep their season alive. But Boston also wants to wrap this series up as soon as possible. The Cavaliers’ sweep of the Raptors means the Eastern Conference finals could start as early as Sunday. The ability to rest is key for the Celtics.

AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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