BOSTON (Massachusetts) • If Brad Stevens was aggrieved not to have received a single vote from his peers in the voting for the National Basketball Coaches Association's Coach of the Year Award, he had the perfect riposte on Wednesday as the Boston Celtics slammed the series door shut on the Philadelphia 76ers.
Stevens had been considered a top contender for the National Basketball Association (NBA) accolade, which was won by Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey, after recording 55 regular season victories to earn the East's No. 2 seed while fielding the league's top-ranked defence.
This was despite the loss of Gordon Hayward just over five minutes into their season opener to a broken ankle, and the absence of Kyrie Irving, who missed 22 regular season games and has been ruled out of the play-offs after knee surgery last month.
While the balloting results sparked a social media outcry on Wednesday, Stevens played down the furore over his omission, preferring to look ahead to Sunday's Eastern Conference Finals match-up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second straight year.
"The guy (Casey) that should have won got it. And the other guys that got votes, they're unbelievable... It's a lot more important to just focus on competing with your team rather than trying to compare yourself to others," Stevens said after his Celtics team punched their ticket with a 114-112 win over the Sixers in Game 5 at TD Garden.
"LeBron is on just a ridiculous run of play. We know it will be quite a challenge.
A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME
I don't have the answer. I am going to enjoy this tonight and then go to practice tomorrow and figure it out.
'' JAYSON TATUM, Celtics rookie, on how to stop NBA superstar LeBron James when Boston meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.
"The most important thing our team can do tomorrow is go outside. Take a day off and take a deep breath."
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored the go-ahead lay-up with 22 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter after catching a pass from Marcus Smart under the basket.
Terry Rozier then sealed the victory by making a pair of free throws with nine seconds left as the Celtics eliminated the 76ers 4-1.
Tatum tallied 25 points, Jaylen Brown had 24 and Rozier finished with 17 points for the Celtics, who are 37-0 when taking a 2-0 lead in a play-off series.
Philadelphia, paced by 27 points apiece from Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, were attempting to become the first team to rally from 3-0 down to win an NBA play-off series.
"We got a lot of heart and a lot of talent on this team, nobody expected us to get this far," said Tatum, who is the second rookie this post-season to notch seven straight 20-plus point play-off games after Utah guard Donovan Mitchell.
Both the Celtics and Cavs have undergone roster overhauls since Cleveland ousted Boston in five games in last year's Eastern Conference finals, with only four players on each side left from that series.
Asked how the Celtics were going to shut down James, who is seeking his eighth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, Tatum gave his honest reply: "It is my first year. I don't have the answer. I am going to enjoy this tonight and then go to practice tomorrow and figure it out."
Smart added that while James is a daunting challenge, the Celtics are ready to meet it head on.
"He's, if not the greatest, one of the greatest to do it. What better way than to go up and compete against a guy that's (going to have) statues," the guard said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES