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Gary Washburn | On basketball

The Celtics could not care less who closes out the game. Just as long as they win.

The Celtics have a lot of players who can make some noise in the fourth quarter of any game.Kim Klement/Associated Press

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ORLANDO — It’s just been happenstance that the Celtics are such a balanced team. Gordon Hayward was signed three years ago to be the team’s primary scorer and premier player.

Injuries have prevented that for the most part. The ascension of third overall picks Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum has also turned Hayward into an option instead of the option. The Celtics then added maximum free agent Kemba Walker to provide another scorer and fourth-quarter closer.

In Sunday’s 122-119 overtime win the Celtics needed a closer. They trailed by 5 points with 48.1 seconds left and needed a rally against the Orlando Magic. Tatum responded by scoring 5 points in a 33-second span, including the tying 12-foot fadeaway to send the game into the extra period.


Hayward and Tatum then scored the first 8 points of overtime to help the Celtics hold on. The Celtics’ strength is in their depth, but there needs to be definite roles in closing games. All four aforementioned players are capable of closing games, but do the Celtics need just one closer?

Jayson Tatum goes to the basket against Orlando's Wes Iwundu and James Ennis III on Sunday.Kim Klement/Associated Press

Not necessarily. It’s a good thing Hayward and Walker have experience being the go-to scorer with previous teams while Tatum, the natural choice to be the primary option, is learning that role quickly. Tatum swished a 3-pointer with 37.1 seconds left when the Celtics desperately needed a basket.

Tatum has been the main focus of opposing defenses since the Celtics arrived in the bubble. Those other teams followed Tatum’s impressive stretch before the pandemic and understood he is becoming the fearless shooter down the stretch.

“It just depends on the situation,” Tatum said when asked whether he’s the team’s closer. “I’m not afraid to take that shot, even if it didn’t go in. Those are the moments I live for but it’s all about game situations, a matchup maybe or who has it going.”


It’s a good thing that the Celtics are even in talent, just as long as they can decide who is willing and capable of taking that last shot. In the victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Aug. 2, it was Brown who responded with a pair of shots that helped the Celtics rally after blowing a 24-point lead.

Hayward opened overtime Sunday by getting fouled on a 3-point attempt and sank three free throws to give Boston a lead it would never relinquish. It seems that all four players take their turns and there’s enough space for Marcus Smart or Enes Kanter or Daniel Theis or even Brad Wanamaker to contribute. The beauty of the Celtics is in their balance because on a night when they scored 122 points, Walker converted one field goal. They signed Walker not to be the franchise savior he was in Charlotte, they signed him to be one of the options that can dominate in crunch time.

“We got some super-talented guys,” Tatum said. “Down the line, Smart, Jaylen, Kemba, Gordon, we have so many guys who can do so many different things offensively. They are talented for their size and position, for me being more of a playmaker, trying to make the right reads and when they start blitzing and having so much attention, making sure I find those guys to get them going.”


Hayward has perhaps been the most impressive Celtic during the seeding games. After a difficult 2018-19 season following his catastrophic leg injury, he has enjoyed a renaissance this season, averaging 17.5 points, a career-best 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He scored 31 points against the Magic, his most since Nov. 5 against Cleveland, and none of the buckets looked forced. He scored in the flow of the game and saved the Celtics when Brown and Tatum were erratic and Walker couldn’t get a basket to fall.

Gordon Hayward is one of four primary late-game scoring options for the Celtics.Pool/Getty

“I think that our team is at our best when I am aggressive and attacking,” he said. “It opens the court for everyone else. A lot of times when I’m attacking, it doesn’t necessarily end up in me scoring but it could be a pass or something else, but getting more paint threats for our team is good. So just trying to attack [is the key].”

With Hayward playing point forward, Walker on the wing for drives and 3-pointers and Tatum and Brown on the court, the Celtics have four legitimate 30-point scorers. And Theis has flourished with his limited opportunities, shooting 58.6 percent from the field with six 3-pointers in the bubble games.

While Smart has struggled in the past five games — 6-for-32 shooting, and 4-for-17 from the 3-point line — he is also an occasional offensive threat down the stretch. What the Celtics have shown in these bubble games is their balance, and they’re going to need their primary weapons — along with several other contributors — to produce if they are to make a long playoff run.


But it’s heartening for the organization to know that they have four go-to guys when the game matters.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.