Sunday's Game 1 Winner was a Moment Built on Trust

BOSTON – Jayson Tatum delivered the first playoff game-winning buzzer-beater at home in Boston Celtics history Sunday afternoon, as he banked in a driving, spinning layup to beat the Brooklyn Nets, 115-114, in Game 1 of the first round at TD Garden.

However, it was more than just a historic moment for the storied franchise; it was a play that encapsulated the trust that the Celtics have established in one another throughout the season.

The trust that they have in their head coach. The trust that they have in their point guard. The trust that they have in their young superstar. And the trust that they have in themselves.

The Celtics were down by one point with 15 seconds remaining when they forced Kevin Durant into a missed 3-point shot, which Al Horford corralled off the rim to give the Celtics one last chance. Rather than using his last timeout to set up a final play, Ime Udoka placed his faith in his players to make the right decision on the fly, and they trusted his confidence in them.

“You’ve got to give credit to Ime for trusting us in that situation with one timeout to just go,” said Marcus Smart, who delivered 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals. “That’s a big confidence builder for us. The coach trusted us to go out there and make a play and be basketball players.”

Smart was trusted to make the biggest play of the season, and he did. After scrambling up-court, Jaylen Brown drove baseline and kicked it out to Smart on the left wing. Smart pump-faked two Nets defenders out of the way to get a clear view of the basket, but rather than shoot the ball, he drove and dished to a cutting Tatum, who caught the rock in the middle of the paint, spun around Kyrie Irving, and dropped it into the cup.

“I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it,” said Tatum, who finished with team highs of 31 points and eight assists. “Last-second shot, just crash the glass. If it doesn’t go in, try to make a play. But when he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact and he made a great pass. I just had to make the layup.”

Udoka was impressed with Smart’s ability to stay composed and not settle for the 3-pointer in that situation, especially considering how Smart had a hot shooting hand all afternoon and had already made four triples up to that point. It was a sign of Smart being a true point guard, putting his team first, and making the right play.

“It shows growth, especially for a guy who made some big threes in the third quarter,” said Udoka. “He could have taken the pull-up, which wouldn’t have been a terrible shot, but he sees Jayson cut and makes the play. We’ve gotten away from the ‘your turn, my turn’ thing for the most part, and we enjoy seeing each other succeed.”

The play also spoke to Tatum’s decision-making in a crunch-time situation. Tatum had been standing at the top of the arc with Durant guarding him when Smart caught Brown’s pass at the three-second mark. As soon as Smart pump-faked, Tatum was off to the races. He snuck past KD through the lane and began spinning past Irving just about when the ball left Smart’s fingertips. Tatum then caught the pass mid-twirl with his back toward the basket, kept his balance, and laid it in, all in one fell swoop.

“I saw JT cut at the last minute and just wanted to get the easiest shot we could, as close as we can to the basket,” said Smart. “So, I found JT, he made a great play to get the ball off the glass and finish it before the game was over.”

The fact that the Celtics even gave themselves a chance to finish off Brooklyn spoke to the strides they’ve made in closing out tough games.

Boston coughed up a 15-point third-quarter lead, which turned into a five-point deficit late in the fourth. It had found itself in many similar situations earlier in the season, most of which resulted in losses. But the C’s are a much different team now than when they started out in October.

“It was fulfilling for us, especially because of the way we started this year off; those types of games, we lost,” said Smart. “We were probably crumbling, and for a moment there, it kind of looked like that was the direction it was going. But the resilience that we have, the approach we have, and the work we put in to make sure that doesn’t happen – you just learn.”

They’ve learned to trust each other in adverse situations and to help each other overcome challenges.

“I think it just shows the progression of our team, how far we’ve come,” said Tatum. “In those first two months, obviously we were average and we were struggling. And we’ve just been playing the right way these last couple of months. And that’s a reason why we’ve been so successful, especially in big moments. It’s all about just trying to make the right play.”

The Celtics made the right play in every aspect of their final possession from Udoka’s decision to not call a timeout to Brown and Smart’s facilitation to Tatum’s miraculous finish.

It was a play built on growth and experience. It was a moment built on trust.

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