Before the game, 76ers Coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the veracity of the report. The review had been shared with both teams.
“It was disappointing to see, honestly,” said Rivers, who rattled through an abridged list of the blown calls that he felt had hindered his team. He added, “Having said that, it’s a human game, and you have to play through it.”
Game 7s are inherently important, but so much seemed to hinge on this one for both teams. For the Celtics, a loss would have represented a stark regression from all that they achieved last season, when they advanced to the N.B.A. finals before losing to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
But progress is seldom linear, and the Celtics faced an unusually rocky path this season: an unexpected coaching change before the start of training camp, a season-ending injury to Danilo Gallinari before he even appeared in a game, and a defense that lacked its familiar oomph.
For the 76ers, Sunday’s game, fair or not, set up as something of a referendum on the Process, the team-building exercise that, as one of its foundational pieces, landed them Embiid in the 2014 N.B.A. draft. But now was the time for a deep playoff run. Rivers acknowledged the pressure before the game.
“But this is what it’s about,” he said. “You put yourself out there because you want to win, and you know if you do that, you have to put yourself in these situations, over and over and over again. And it’s worth it.”
At the same time, Rivers anticipated the importance of his key players pushing themselves “to the max of exhaustion.” Embiid spent his final few quiet moments before the tip dribbling near the halfcourt circle. He even hoisted a couple of pretend shots before handing the ball to his teammate Tyrese Maxey.