The Celtics punched a ticket to the NBA Finals on Sunday night, and they may have RJ Barrett and the Knicks to thank.
Boston star Jayson Tatum, who scored 26 points in their Eastern Conference Game 7 victory over the Miami Heat, made that suggestion after the game, saying that his failure to guard against Barrett’s game-winning 3-pointer last January stuck with him, and motivated him to improve.
“The toughest moment for me was blowing that 25-point lead in New York, and then RJ Barrett hit the game-winning shot over me,” Tatum said. “That was the toughest moment for me.”
“[But] shortly after that, things started to turn around.”
The Jan. 6 game at Madison Square Garden saw the Knicks inbounding the ball with 1.5 second remaining with a tied 105–105 score, when they inbounded to Barrett, who launched a shot over Tatum at the buzzer to win the contest.
The shot capped a miraculous 25-point comeback in the game as the electric Garden crowd cheered on.
RJ BARRETT CALLED GAME pic.twitter.com/KOIFmnuvFa
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 7, 2022
At the time, the Celtics had a measly 18–20 record, and many NBA spectators questioned whether Tatum and company could go the distance.
Yet, things did begin to turn around for Boston after that moment — as they finished the season with an impressive 33–11 record, which put them at 51–31 for the season, and gave them the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference.
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Tatum and the Celtics beat the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the playoffs, before topping Miami on Sunday.
They will now go on to face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, which begins on Thursday, June 2.