Jayson Tatum made a layup at the buzzer on a pass from Marcus Smart to give the Boston Celtics a dramatic 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday.
Tatum scored 16 of his 31 points in the second half, the final two after a poised Boston possession in the frantic final seconds. Jaylen Brown dribbled toward the middle and swung the ball out to Smart, who fired it into a cutting Tatum, who spun around and dropped in his layup just before time expired.
Brown added 23 points. Al 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 Kevin Durant missed a jumper with a one-point lead that set up the Celtics’ final possession.
Durant added 23 points but shot just 9 of 24.
Boston charged out of halftime with a 23-8 run to open a 82-69 lead, sparked by Smart’s dead-eye shooting from beyond the arc.
The Celtics also seemed to tweak their approach to guarding Durant in the half court, fronting him and sending help over the top to limit his driving ability.
Durant and Irving still found ways to score at times, but they had to exert increased energy to get off their attempts.
It didn’t last.
With Boston leading early in the fourth, Irving got Brooklyn back in the mix with two straight 3-pointers and a layup to trim Boston’s advantage to 98-97 with just over 9 minutes left. Then, following an empty trip by Boston that saw Brown and Horford fail to convert from in close, Durant calmly drained a 3 on the other end to put the Nets in front.
Brooklyn had increased its lead to 107-102 when Durant was long with a jumper. Brown found space on the Celtics’ next possession and connected on a 3 from the wing. The Nets turned it back over on a offensive foul on Durant. Smart slid underneath Irving on Boston’s ensuring trip and tied it with a layup.
The score was tied again at 109 with less than 2 minutes left when Durant got a friendly bounce on a jumper to put Brooklyn back up. Horford’s follow shot tied it again. But Irving was good from deep on the next time down the floor give the Nets a 114-111 cushion.
Brown tied it coming out of a timeout with 38 seconds left.
In his latest trip to face his former Boston teammates, Irving received the loudest jeers during pregame introductions and was booed whenever he touched the ball the rest of the way.
Fans also showered plenty disdain on Bruce Brown, who made headlines last week after suggesting Celtics big men Horford and Daniel Theis might be easy to attack inside without injured center Robert Williams III available to defend the rim.
Horford played the opening 12 minutes as if on a one-man mission to obliterate that notion.
Boston entered with the league’s best defensive rating since the All-Star break and applied early pressure on Durant. He tried to establish himself in the post in the first quarter, but the Celtics blitzed him with backside help defenders, stripping him three times.
Brooklyn finished with seven turnovers for the quarter, but it translated into only a 29-28 lead for Boston.
Horford was active throughout, going 3 for 4 from the field with 10 points, two rebounds and a steal.
Boston had to adjust early in the second quarter after Theis picked up his third foul. But things evened out when Drummond was whistled for his fourth foul with 4:58 left in the period.
The Celtics immediately went on a 9-2 run before the Nets clawed back to tie the game up at 61 at the half.