BOSTON (CBS) -- We knew the first-round series between the Celtics and the Nets would be pretty epic. Game 1 on Sunday afternoon lived up to all the hype and then some, as Jayson Tatum and the Celtics stole a victory at the buzzer.
Tatum gets all the glory for making a beautiful spinning layup at the buzzer to lift Boston to a 115-114 win. But the credit goes to everyone on the floor for the winner, and the defensive stance that the Celtics made on the other end of the court preceding it.
The Celtics had blown a 15-point lead that they held in the third quarter and were facing an uphill battling in the closing minutes. Kyrie Irving was cooking in the final frame, and had just hit a contested three to give Brooklyn a 114-111 lead with 45.9 seconds left. It was not looking great for Boston, and no one seemed happy with anyone in the ensuing timeout.
It brought back memories to the early-season Celtics that would let games like this slip away. At any sign of resistance, they would fold like a chair. These Celtics, however, are not those Celtics, and they haven't been for a while.
"That is one of the bigger progressions," Tatum said after the win. "It's an emotional game so it's not going to be a quiet huddle. We have to talk it out. But the main thing is we figure it all out right there and come out ready out of the huddle."
"We talked about staying poised and being able to move on. At that point, a team can go one of two ways," said veteran Al Horford, who was more than just a glue guy with 20 points and 15 rebounds in the victory. "We got a pretty good handle of the game in the third and it just got away from us. I give our group a lot of credit because we knew we needed to stay with it. We had to continue to play and that's what we did."
Out of the timeout, Jaylen Brown coasted for a nice layup to make it 114-113 with 38.9 to go. That's when the Boston defense went to work. The Celtics needed to make one more stop to give themselves a chance at the end, and they went out and played a perfect 24 seconds of defense.
Marcus Smart and Horford joined forces to keep Irving from doing anything, creating a wall in front of the crafty Nets point guard. Irving was forced to give it up to Kevin Durant, who had Tatum all over him and kept him from driving to the hoop. Durant had to force a three at the shot clock buzzer, and Horford came down with the miss.
"It was a great defensive possession for our team," said Tatum. "Everyone was communicating and we finished with a box out on the rebound and pushed the ball."
Ime Udoka had one final timeout, but he kept it in his pocket and trusted his players with 12 seconds left. Horford got the ball to Brown, who raced down the floor and drew the Brooklyn defense out of the paint. He fed Smart on the wing, but Smart did not heave up the three, as he is known to do. Smart instead put up a fake, and then fed Tatum as the C's star cut to the hoop.
Two Celtics passed up pretty good looks for even better ones. And it paid off big.
"Honestly, we all thought Smart was going to shoot it," Tatum said. "Last second, I just crashed the glass in case it didn't go in to try and make a play. When he took that dribble, we made eye contact and he made a great pass. I just had to make the layup."
Tatum finished with the spinning layup, and the ball went through the hoop just before the buzzer sounded. Pandemonium ensued inside TD Garden, and the Celtics walked off the floor with a 1-0 series lead.
"That was crazy," Tatum said of the crowd's reaction. "Everybody was on their feet. We had just gotten a big stop. It doesn't get any better than that. A buzzer beater in a playoff game at home in front of our fans. That was probably the loudest I've heard it."
The biggest question surrounding the Celtics heading into the series -- aside from how they would keep Irving and Durant in check -- was their ability to win a close game. The Celtics were one of the worst teams in the league when things were tight at the end, and the playoffs figure to throw plenty of those scenarios their way. They passed with flying colors on Sunday.
"It's a big confidence builder," said Smart. "Coach trusted us to go out and make a play, be basketball players. It just shows the trust he has in us to make plays on the fly, call audibles. We appreciate Ime."
"It just shows the progression of our team and how far we've come from Game 1 and those first two months [of the regular season], when we were average and struggling," said Tatum. "We've been playing the right way the last two months and that's the reason we've been so successful, especially in big moments. It's all about trying to make the right play."
The Celtics made several of those in the closing 40 seconds in Game 1. Making the winner all the more satisfying (at least for Boston fans) is that Irving and Durant both had front-row seats for Tatum's layup -- and they couldn't do much of anything about it.
The Celtics were far from perfect on Sunday, and are actually pretty lucky to head into Wednesday's Game 2 with a 1-0 series lead. Durant was off for much of the game, thanks in large part to Boston's stifling defense, but chances are that he'll be back to his normal self the next time these two teams meet. Boston needs to be much better going forward if they want to send the Nets home and move on to the second round.
But the Celtics stood tall when they had to on Sunday, and they battled back when a comeback seemed almost impossible. They know they need to work on a lot of things before Game 2, but they head into the next tilt feeling pretty good about who they are when the game gets tight.
"It was fulfilling for us, especially because of the way we started the year off, those are the kind of games we would have lost," said Smart. "It looked like that was the direction it was going, but it's the resilience, our approach and the work we put in to make sure that doesn't happen. We had a lot of games to learn from with those instances. Everyone did their job, we all helped each other and we came out the victor."
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