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.