NBA: Tatum lifts Celtics over Nets in playoff opener
MIAMI – Jayson Tatum spun in for a buzzer-beating layup to give the Boston Celtics a dramatic 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday in the first game of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.
Tatum scored 31 points to lead the Celtics, who thwarted a fourth-quarter comeback bid by the Nets to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
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Tatum added eight assists and two blocked shots, Jaylen Brown added 23 points and Al Horford and Marcus Smart scored 20 apiece for Boston, who took a 96-85 lead into the fourth quarter but trailed 114-111 with less than a minute to play.
Former Celtic Kyrie Irving, booed throughout by Boston fans who still resent his departure for Brooklyn, led the Nets with 39 points. Kevin Durant was the only other Nets starter in double figures with 23.
Irving will no doubt hear from the NBA after a middle-finger salute to heckling fans in the third quarter, but he saved his best gesture for the fourth period, when he scored 18 points to key the Nets’ comeback bid.
Irving’s long three-pointer over Smart put Brooklyn up 114-111 with 1:04 to play.
But the Celtics clamped down defensively and pulled within one on Brown’s driving layup. After Durant missed a three-pointer, Tatum, fed by Smart from across the lane, willed his way through traffic for the game-winner.
A first half that featured 17 lead changes ended with the score knotted at 61-61, but the Celtics, who had been idle since their last regular-season game as the Nets battled through the play-in tournament, pulled away with a 39-24 third quarter.
“Our aggressiveness was great,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said of his team’s third-quarter performance. “It was different from the first half. I felt like, offensively, we got going as well, knocked a little bit of the rust off in the first half.”