Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates the game winning basket as Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the fourth quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Nets 115-114. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Jayson Tatum came through in the game’s biggest moment when the Celtics beat the Nets in Game 1. But the totality of Tatum’s performance, and the team’s on the clutch final play, exemplified one of the keys to the Celtics’ second-half run: unselfishness.

Tatum finished Game 1 with 31 points, including the final two of regulation, when he made a scintillating spin-move around Kyrie Irving before finishing the game-winning layup. But he began the game as a facilitator, dishing out seven of his eight assists in the first half. The unselfishness stood out. But, especially as Kyrie Irving poured on 18 of his 39 points in the fourth to give the Nets a late lead, Tatum had to be the one delivering the victorious blow.

His teammates understood that. Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart both gave up on shot opportunities of their own on the decisive possession, understanding in the moment that they were better off moving the ball against tight defense. Tatum slipped behind an unsuspecting Kevin Durant to slice toward the hoop, and Smart, facing a double-team, found him in stride for the finish.

The ball movement epitomized the excellent team basketball the Celtics played in their red-hot second half.

“For us, I think that’s kind of a microcosm of our season, guys moving the ball, playing unselfish,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “Jaylen could’ve forced a shot on [Goran] Dragic, he saw three guys on him, kicked it to Marcus, he could’ve forced a shot over two guys flying at him, he pump-faked it, could’ve took the pull-up, and saw Jayson cutting, so that’s where we’ve really improved at, and it kind of came all together on our last possession.”

Five Celtics had at least two assists on the afternoon, and as a team they had 24, compared to 20 for the Nets. Boston’s extra level of unselfishness culminated at the game’s thrilling conclusion.

  • Here are some more takeaways from the Celtics’ Game 1 win over the Nets…

    Playing Smart

    Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets defends Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets defends Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during the first quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Marcus Smart in another year might’ve taken an ill-advised three with two defenders in his face. Instead, his unselfishness and intelligence shined on the game’s final play, as Smart made the best possible decision at the best possible time.

    Smart’s growth as a player and teammate has been one of the keys to the team’s surge in the second half of the regular season, as he’s taken a clear backseat as a scorer to Tatum and Brown. He’s played to his strengths as a facilitator and defender, and taken the shot when the time was right.

    For Smart, in this game, that time came in a sudden 11-point burst over a three-minute stretch in the third quarter, sparked by his steal of Kyrie Irving’s inbound pass and easy dunk. He finished with a box score-stuffing 20 points, six assists, seven rebounds, and two steals, and his all-around game was another microcosm of the Celtics’ balanced effort on Sunday.

  • Size Matters

    Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) and Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) work for the ball in the second quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Apr 17, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) and Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) work for the ball in the second quarter during game one of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    One game in, it appears the Celtics present a problem to the Nets. Even without center Robert Williams III, their sheer size and length up and down the lineup is proving tough for the Nets to hang with them in the frontcourt.

    Al Horford scored 20 points on 8-for-13 (61.5 percent) from the floor, largely from the paint and around the rim. He also pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds; the Nets’ five starters had 16 rebounds combined. That included just one for Brooklyn’s Bruce Brown, who called out Horford specifically in comments made about the Celtics’ defense heading into the game.

    It goes beyond Horford. Three Nets starters stood at 6-foot-4 or smaller. Among their entire active roster on Sunday, only Kevin Durant, Andre Drummond, and Nic Claxton stood at 6-foot-10 or bigger. They very nearly overcame those shortcomings, but the size difference showed up in glaring fashion on the final play, when the 6-foot-8 Tatum spun around the 6-foot-2 Irving. This will be something to monitor in the games ahead.

  • Sounds of the Game

    Listen below for a must-hear call from 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell, as they reacted to the Nets and Celtics’ final possessions in what Grande called an “instant classic” Game 1.