Celtics 365: Tatum Delivers First Career Game-Winner
At this time last year, the Boston Celtics were just beginning their journey through the 2019-20 NBA campaign. Little did they know at the time that it would wind up being the most unprecedented 365-day trek in NBA history.
It took an entire year to complete the season, as a four-month, midseason hiatus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed playoff basketball all the way into mid-October of 2020. As a result, the beginning of the 2020-21 Season has been pushed back to an undetermined date.
In light of that delay, we want to make sure Celtics basketball remains in your lives this fall, when NBA basketball is usually in full swing. So we’ll be taking you on a 365-day rewind back to last season as we highlight some of the most memorable performances from the campaign - all on the one-year anniversary of each occurrence. We’ll refresh some fun memories while also keeping you in the basketball mindset for when next season begins.
Jayson Tatum has rightfully earned his team’s trust to take the final shot at the end of a game, and he will always remember the first time that he delivered.
Exactly one year ago today, the Celtics wing made his first career game-winner against the New York Knicks, knocking down a nasty step-back dagger from the right corner to give Boston a 104-102 win at TD Garden.
How the final play unfolded and whom it unfolded against made it all the more special for the then-21-year-old.
Tatum had been looking forward to this Nov. 1 matchup, knowing that it would mark the return of his former teammate and mentor, Marcus Morris, who had signed with New York over the summer.
“We’d been talking about this moment for a long time,” Morris confirmed after the game. “I told him when I come back here, we’re going to go at it.”
Neither of them disappointed, as Morris tallied a team-high 29 points for the Knicks, while Tatum poured in 24 of his own for Boston. Those two individuals were also responsible for taking this game down to the wire, both delivering clutch shots during the final five seconds of regulation.
At first, it seemed as though Morris would be the hero of the matchup, as he canned his fifth 3-pointer of the night to tie the game at 102-102 with 4.7 seconds remaining. However, that left Tatum with just enough time to respond, which is exactly what he did.
Following a Celtics timeout, Tatum caught the inbound pass from Marcus Smart on the right sideline and quickly went to work on fellow Duke alumnus R.J. Barrett. While facing away from the basket, he pivoted on his right foot and swung his left leg around to face up on the Knicks rookie. He then jabbed to the left before pulling back to the right just inside the 3-point arc along the baseline, where he rose up and sunk the game-winning basket with just 1.3 seconds left on the game clock.
Without any timeouts remaining, New York was unable to deliver a clean full-court pass on the final possession, securing the win for Boston.
Tatum couldn’t have asked for a much sweeter game-winner, although the cherry on top would have been if he delivered it directly over Morris.
“Everybody knows we have a great relationship,” Tatum said. “He’s like a big brother to me. I just kind of wish that I would have hit that shot over him.”
Though maybe it was best that he didn’t, considering how Morris, who got caught up in a Gordon Hayward screen before Smart’s pass was delivered, claimed to have known exactly what trick Tatum was going to pull out of his bag.
“Step to the right, pull,” Morris recited the play, of which he surely saw plenty during his post-practice one-on-one battles with Tatum. “Good shot, man. He’s a good player. Brad (Stevens) drew up a great play, and he made it. It was good to see him get his first one.”
Even though it was his first game-winner, Tatum made sure not to get too caught up in the moment, as he maintained an even-keeled attitude in the immediate aftermath of the shot.
"It feels great, but I don't want to get too excited," he said from inside the Celtics locker room. "The guys that I look up to in this league, they do things like this all the time."
Making those types of shots all the time is exactly what Tatum strives for, but that first game-winner will always hold a special spot on his career highlight reel.