Boston, MA — Jayson Tatum made a layup at the buzzer on a pass from Marcus Smart to give the Boston Celtics a comeback 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series at the TD Garden.
Tatum scored 31 points and shot the lights out in the fourth quarter. It was Boston’s first in the postseason since Paul Pierce did it in 2010 against the Heat.
After Kevin Durant missed on the other end of the floor, the Celtics rebounded and sped up the court, and ran their last play to perfection.
“It was fulfilling for us, especially because of the way we started this year off, those types of games, we lost. We were probably crumbling,” said Marcus Smart. “And for a moment there, it kind of looked like that was the direction it was going.
Despite Kyrie Irving scoring 39 points, including 18-points in the fourth and 6-for-10 3-point shooting, the Nets couldn’t finish off the Celtics.
The crowd was giving it to Irving all game long, as evidenced by the middle finger Kyrie Irving flashed at a fan after hitting a corner 3-pointer in the third quarter after a night of constant boos from his former home crowd.
“The same energy they have for me, I’m gonna have the same energy for them. It’s not every fan,” Irving said. “There’s only but so much you can take as a competitor.”
Both teams went into the break knotted at 61 but the Celtics was gaining confidence in their half court offensive sets.
Boston entered with the league’s best defensive rating since the All-Star break and applied early pressure on Kevin Durant constantly. He tried to establish himself in the post in the first quarter, but the Celtics corralled him with backside help defenders, stripping him a few times. The help defense over the top limit his driving ability and it frustrated Durant in the first half.
“They did a good job of forcing me away, then helping in the paint. I just got to be more fundamental in my moves,” Durant said. “I feel like some shots went in an out for me.”
Boston charged out of halftime with a 23-8 run to open a 82-69 lead, sparked by Smart’s on-point shooting from beyond the arc.
After leading by as many as 15 points in the third, and trailing by as many as five in the fourth after Brooklyn opened the quarter with a 17-2 run, Smart maintained his composure with the clock running down.
“Honestly, I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it,” said Tatum. “So last-second shot, just crash the glass. If it doesn’t go in, try to make a play. But when he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact and he made a great pass. I just had to make the layup.
Leading up to the last scoring play for the Celtics, Boston came out of the timeout with a Jaylen Brown drive that cut the Nets lead to a point with 38.9 ticks left, and when Tatum pressured Durant into a 27-foot miss that fell a little short, Derrick White immediately drove up the court, giving it up to Brown, who passed up on a jumper.
Brown instead dished to Smart, who passed up a semi-open jumper, split a double team, and passed to Tatum, who spun off Irving for a backdoor cut, beating the buzzer. A year ago Smart most likely would have taken the shot. His teammates certainly thought that’s where he was headed.
The Garden erupted, naturally. Tatum, whose 31-point, eight-assist performance led an attack that found three other Celtics breaking the 20-point mark, later called it the loudest he’s ever heard in the TD Garden’s building, especially when the buzzer went off.
And after a season that started so poorly and slowly, there really couldn’t have been any other result.
Kevin Durant added 23 points but shot just 9 of 24 from the floor for the Nets.
Nets: Brooklyn finished with 16 turnovers. Durant and Irving shot a combined 1 for 8 from the field in the first quarter.
Brown chipped in 23 points for Boston, who host Game 2 on Wednesday. Horford had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and Smart finished with 20 points, including four 3-pointers.
Kyrie Irving finished with 39 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. But the Celtics forced the ball out of his hands the last time Brooklyn had it and Durant missed a jumper with a one-point lead that set up the Celtics’ final possession.