Daniel Theis’ pivotal block on D.J. Augustin with 22.8 seconds left in regulation of Sunday’s 122-119 Celtics overtime win over the Magic set the stage for Jayson Tatum’s second big shot of the night.
The Celtics were on the verge of erasing a five-point deficit. After Kemba Walker’s key offensive rebound/behind-the-back pass landed in Tatum’s hands from behind the arc with 39.3 seconds left, Tatum kept his composure. He served Magic forward Gary Clark a quick pump-fake that sent Clark swinging, dribbled to his left, stepped into his shot, and drained a crucial 3-pointer (112-110).
With less than 10 seconds left and the ball in his hands, All-Star veteran Kemba Walker, who finished the night 1-for-9 from the floor, didn’t hesitate – he passed it to Tatum for the last shot. Tatum backed down Magic guard Marquelle Fultz with a couple of dribbles to create space, turned left into a fade-away jump shot that found the bottom of the net with 3.8 ticks left on the clock (112-112).
The Celtics barely pulled ahead in the extra period – where they outscored Orlando 10-7 for the win. Boston (47-23) is now 4-2 in their opening six seeding games and are locked into the third seed with a two-game lead over the Heat for third place in the East.
What stood out most from Sunday’s win was not the Celtics’ struggles against an Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier-less Magic team, but rather Boston’s late-game execution.
Tatum, who finished with 29 points on 10-of-24 attempts, including 4-of-12 from deep and scored nine points in final frame and overtime, continues to prove he’s the team’s best option in clutch situations. He wasn’t the only Celtics player having an impressive shooting night Sunday. Walker had other options for the final play of regulation.
Gordon Hayward, who finished with a game-high 31 points on 12-of-18, was one way to go. Jaylen Brown (19 points on 7-of-19), who’s had some big moments at the end of games this season, was another.
But for Walker, a veteran point guard known for epic late-game heroics; he knew the ball belonged to Tatum. It was a clear-cut decision that, of course, paid off and also meant the world to Tatum.
“It does a lot, obviously,” Tatum said. “Kemba’s been one of the best players in this league – he’s been doing it for a while. He’s hit some big-time shots and mature enough to understand when it’s not really his night offensively.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens recognizes the growth in Tatum, specifically in late-game situations.
“I think he’s a good player, he’s a smart player,” Stevens said. “He can pass the ball, he can make baskets. Every good player wants to shoot the last couple shots but I think he recognizes that there will be times when he’ll shoot it, times when he’ll have to dish it off. We have a unique team in that regard where we have a lot of different guys that we can go to and will go to.”
Celtics Late-Game Execution
Having a roster loaded with three scorers (Tatum, Walker, Brown) averaging 20 or more points this season is a luxury that no other NBA team has and all three have proven that they can drain big shots at the end of games.
Although Stevens isn’t labeling Tatum as his permanent go-to guy at the end of games, he still gave his All-Star forward a pat on the back for keeping it together during one of the fourth quarter’s most tense moments.
Stevens also knows the Celtics’ lapses on defense nearly cost them the game.
“The big 3 off of the rebound was excellent and then the poise to get that shot, get to where he wanted to, take his time; score the ball, was good too when we were down two with however many seconds left,” Stevens said. “I thought that was really good. You never want to script it that way but it wasn’t all bad to be down five either with 1:44 or 1:50.
“(We) just to have to find a way, in that moment, to get stops, have to put our defense in a situation where we had to get a stop to go to overtime. Had to get a bucket right before that; it’s not all bad but, you know, there’s a lot that led up to that that we didn’t play as well and we’ll go back and look at that – make sure we’re better.”