Celtics v Nets takeaways: Jayson Tatum’s Game 1 buzzer-beater and final stand show Boston’s best attributes

The Boston Celtics’ 15-point lead was gone, Kyrie Irving had caught fire and just 11 seconds remained to save their series opener on Sunday. Derrick White pushed the ball in transition and gave it to Jaylen Brown, who drove the baseline, and, when two Brooklyn Nets cut it, turned to his left and fed it back to Marcus Smart. Instead of trying to be the hero, Smart Pump-fake dribbled past both nets flying at him and sent him to a cutting Jayson Tatum.

Rotating movement. Layup. Game. Ruckus.

“Honestly, I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it,” Tatum said. “So, last second shot, just smash the glass; if he doesn’t go in, try to make a play. But when he took that dribble, we just made eye contact. And he made a great pass. I just had to make a lay-up.”

The game-winner at TD Garden gave Tatum 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting, Smart his sixth assist and the Celtics a 115-114 victory in Game 1. It also gave Boston a huge sigh of relief.

“Those are the best games,” Tatum said. “The games that are the most rewarding, the most fun, just like a competitor. We’re up 15 and we’re down five and… the only thing you have to do is try to figure it out.”

Brooklyn started the fourth quarter 11 points behind. He had committed 14 turnovers, and he had been beaten on the glass. The Nets took the lead with a 15-2 streak, led mostly by Irving, who scored 18 of his game-high 39 points in the final period. Irving did his damage on 12-for-20 shooting, with six assists, four steals and five rebounds.

Kevin Durant finished with 23 points on 9-for-24 shooting, with four rebounds, three assists and six turnovers, an unusually inefficient performance. Nicolas Claxton and Goran Dragic combined for 27 points and 13 rebounds off the Brooklyn bench, and Claxton blocked three shots.

The Celtics had a 56-32 point advantage in the paint. Smart finished with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, plus seven rebounds and two steals in the victory.

Here are three takeaways from the Boston thriller:

1. The Last Stand

The very last play of the game was the most memorable, but the final 46 seconds had to be perfectly executed for the Celtics to escape with a win. In a timeout after an Irving 3-pointer, Boston coach Ime Udoka set up a set play that called for Horford to scout Tatum well outside the 3-point line. The Nets were top-lock Tatum, which meant Durant and Claxton, their best rim protectors, were nowhere near the basket, allowing Brown to go one-on-one without worrying about the defense of aid. He got a quick 2 and then the Celtics needed a stoppage.

Boston took a risk, sending a double team to Irving with 10 seconds on the shot clock, and instead of getting the ball out, Irving tried to dribble away from it. He eventually passed to Durant with four seconds to spare, leading to a deep, desperate 3-point attempt on Tatum’s outstretched arm.

“Both sides finally got what we wanted,” Udoka said.

Durant is one of the few players on the planet who can make that shot, but the fact that he had to take it meant Boston had done their job. Horford grabbed the rebound, and the Celtics walked away, in transition, with a built-in size and athleticism advantage. There was no need to call a timeout and allow Brooklyn to put its best defensive formation on the floor.

“We talk about it all the time,” Udoka said. “If I don’t like what I see, I can always call a time out and draw something with a few seconds left.”

On those crucial possessions, all of the Celtics best traits were on display. They fielded a lineup defensively with no weak links – Smart, White, Brown, Tatum and Horford – and all needed to communicate, improvise, stay calm and be selfless. Horford said he was proud of the team’s composure and Smart called the result “satisfying” as they had shown resilience.

“Mostly because of how we started this year,” Smart said. “These type of games, we would have lost. We probably would have crumbled. And for a while it seemed like that was the direction he was going.”

Smart said Boston “had a lot of games to learn with these types of incidents, so we just wanted to make sure that’s not how we got out. And everybody did their job.”

2. Big Al’s Big Game

Boston is asking a lot of Horford. The 35-year-old big man played 41 minutes and he spent a lot of time as a traveling defender, as Robert Williams III did before his injury. Horford also spent time defending superstars on the perimeter and, unlike the last time these teams met, when he moved on to Durant or Irving, he didn’t have Williams behind him, serving as cover for security to block shots.

Horford finished with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. As a team, the Celtics caught an incredible 41.7% of their misses, making Brooklyn pay for playing two — and sometimes three — little guards at once and putting Seth Curry on Daniel Theis.

Some feedback from Horford:

He also missed a comeback dunk on a fast counterattack in the fourth quarter…

…but redeemed himself in the end. Horford was the guy who doubled Irving on the Nets’ last offensive possession, and he was the one who grabbed the defensive rebound that led to Tatum’s game-winner.

3. Crazy Irving

Irving went crazy, and that was almost enough. His late-game outburst included four 3s, three of them off the dribble, all of them tough, the last against Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Smart.

Tatum is an All-Defense type himself, and he’s listed at 6-foot-8 with a 6-11 wingspan. Three times in the fourth quarter, Irving went straight for him and got a bucket:

“Obviously he made some amazing shots,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We came to expect that from him. But in that environment and that atmosphere, to shoot, we needed him. He was brilliant [in terms of] shot tonight.”

Game 2 is Wednesday in Boston.

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