It’s that time of the year again: Awards Season at Celtics.com! As we do every offseason, we’re handing out six virtual trophies as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. There are no acceptance speeches, and the voting committee is made up of only two of your favorite beat writers, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. So here we go...
There are great games, and then there are instant classics. Boston’s miraculous come-from-behind victory over the San Antonio Spurs back on April 30th unquestionably falls into the latter category.
The Celtics stormed back from as many as 32 points down during the first half and by 29 points at halftime to log not only the win of the year, but the win of the decade. To put into context just how extraordinary this victory was, it marked the second-largest halftime deficit overcome in NBA history, and teams had previously lost 1,014 consecutive NBA games after trailing by 32 or more points – until Boston pulled off this 143-140 win in overtime in front of a raucous crowd at TD Garden.
Not only did the Celtics make history as a team, but star wing Jayson Tatum made history individually. He dropped a career-high 60 points to tie Larry Bird for the highest individual scoring output in franchise history. Boston wouldn’t have had a chance at the win had Tatum not displayed true greatness.
“He did exactly what a great player is supposed to do,” teammate Jaylen Brown said of Tatum after the game. “He was efficient, led us, hit timely shots, big baskets. Real big-boy basketball.”
Boston played big-boy basketball as a team over the final 18 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, which makes the comeback even more remarkable.
San Antonio still led by 28 points after Lonnie Walker IV drained a 3-pointer at the 6:41 mark of the third period. It was not until Rob Williams dropped in a layup off a pass from Marcus Smart seven seconds later that the Celtics began to build their unstoppable momentum.
Starting with that layup from Williams, Boston outscored the Spurs 25-10 to close out the third quarter, and it did so as a team. Six different Celtics scored during that run, including six points from Jaylen Brown and five apiece from Evan Fournier and Aaron Nesmith.
At that point, the C’s and their faithful inside TD Garden felt like a miracle was on its way. All they needed was someone to carry them home to the Promised Land, and that person was Tatum.
The dynamic, fourth-year wing went off during the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points to go along with two assists. He scored or assisted on 26 total points during the frame, which is one more than San Antonio’s entire team scored during the fourth.
Boston finally erased its deficit completely when Marcus Smart canned a triple with 5:36 left in regulation to make it a 116-116 game. Neither team led by more than two points for the remainder of regulation before they headed to overtime for an extra five minutes.
Tatum continued to take it to the Spurs during overtime, attacking over and over while pouring in another 10 points. He got to the line for six free-throw attempts during the extra session and canned all of them, including four during the final 11.3 seconds to seal Boston’s win and to push him into a tie with Bird atop the franchise’s single-game scoring list.
“That is… it’s hard to – I don’t know,” Tatum said after being notified that he and Bird would be tied together forever. “Obviously anytime you’re mentioned with a top-10 player of all time in any stat, obviously that is a good thing. It’s something I never think I would have imagined at this age.”
In the same vein, the Celtics and their fans could have never imagined that their team would storm back for a win after trailing by 32 points during the first half.
It’s incredibly rare for a team to pull off a 32-point comeback in the NBA. It’s also rare to have a player score 60 points, as is evidenced by the fact that only Tatum and Bird have done so in a Celtics uniform. On this late-April night, both happened in the same building, for the same team.
That’s why this game will forever be remembered, and why it has been stamped as our Game of the Year.