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‘We just stuck with it:’ Observations from the Celtics’ late escape against the Wizards

Jayson Tatum squeezed between Washington's Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura to flip home the winning basket Sunday night at TD Garden.
Jayson Tatum squeezed between Washington's Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura to flip home the winning basket Sunday night at TD Garden.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Jayson Tatum was thrilled when both he and Bradley Beal — his close friend and fellow St. Louis native — were chosen to start in the All-Star Game. He’s hopeful that when teams are selected, the two will become teammates in an organized game for the first time.

But at TD Garden on Sunday night, they were definitely not on the same team, and for a time it appeared that Beal would pummel Tatum and the Celtics once again. Then, Tatum rescued his team before it was too late, pouring in 6 points in the final 43.1 seconds to propel Boston to a 111-110 win.


Beal finished with 46 points, but Tatum secured bragging rights by answering with 31 and the victory.

“We made some big plays, got some key stops, and we just stuck with it and it turned it our favor,” Tatum said. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on this.

The Celtics’ season was on the brink when they returned home for this final four-game stretch before the All-Star break, but they have now steadied themselves — and had some much-needed good fortune — by escaping with consecutive wins to get back to .500. Boston sliced a 106-98 deficit to 106-105 when Tatum converted a fadeaway with 1:33 left. But Robin Lopez answered with a hook shot and Beal converted a layup, making it 110-105 with just 46.9 seconds to play.

After Tatum attacked for a quick layup, Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer from the left corner, giving Boston possession with 19.7 seconds left. Tatum went in for another layup, and then the Celtics trapped Beal on the inbounds pass before he slipped and fell out of bounds with 12.4 seconds remaining.

Tatum converted another acrobatic layup with 4.7 seconds to play, putting Boston in front. After a timeout, Beal was trapped in the right corner before firing up a 20-footer that rimmed out.


”It’s been a tough stretch for Jayson,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “but this matters to him, and he wants to win, and he made big plays.”

Observations from the game:

⋅ When within a possession in the final seconds of a game, the Celtics generally do a good job of trying one or two traps to go for a steal before committing a foul. In this instance, Tatum and Ojeleye trapped Beal close to the baseline after he received an inbounds pass. He spun as if anticipating contact before losing his footing and slipping out of bounds.

The Celtics would have been put a tough spot if they’d had to foul Beal, a 90 percent free-throw shooter. Boston did not have any timeouts left to advance the ball, so the Wizards could have easily just turned the final seconds into a free-throw contest by fouling with what likely would have been a 3-point lead.

Afterward, Wizards coach Scott Brooks lamented not using a timeout of his own when Beal was trapped.

”Unfortunately, he slipped on a wet spot,” he said. “But that’s on me. I should’ve called a timeout.”

Bradley Beal had 46 points for Washington, his fourth 40-point game of the season, but also his fourth in which the Wizards lost.
Bradley Beal had 46 points for Washington, his fourth 40-point game of the season, but also his fourth in which the Wizards lost.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

⋅ The Celtics caught a break after Beal slipped out of bounds. It appeared to be a pretty obvious call, but the officials reviewed it anyway. Boston had no timeouts, so this gave Stevens a chance to draw up what turned out to be Tatum’s game-winning basket.


⋅ The Wizards appeared to be in control after Beal’s basket stretched their lead back to five, but defense that had been solid to that point suddenly only cared about giving up a 3-pointer. It wasn’t the worst outcome to have Tatum slice into the paint for his first layup, but the fact that he needed only 3.8 seconds to do it kept so many options open for the Celtics. Then after Westbrook’s missed 3-pointer and another timeout, Tatum needed just 4.7 seconds to attack for another layup.

”If you’ve got the lead, you don’t want to give them easy, wide open layups within a few seconds,” Brooks said. “We had some miscommunications defensively.”

⋅ For a moment, it looked like the Celtics could be in trouble on the Wizards’ final inbounds pass with 4.7 seconds left. Tatum was chasing Beal when he briefly lost his footing, potentially giving the NBA’s leading scorer just enough time and space. But Tatum recovered nicely, and then Ojeleye, who had been guarding Russell Westbrook’s sideline inbounds pass, made the right play by sliding over to double-team and leave Westbrook, a 27.9 percent 3-point shooter, open at the right arc.

There was a window for Westbrook to cut to the basket, where he is most dangerous, but he just stood at the arc with his hands up. Beal’s high-arching shot was defended perfectly, but it almost went in anyway.

”They did a great job bottling him up,” Brooks said.

Jayson Tatum posterized Washington's Robin Lopez with a definitive dunk in the second quarter.
Jayson Tatum posterized Washington's Robin Lopez with a definitive dunk in the second quarter.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

⋅ Washington stretched its lead to 6 points early in the fourth before the Celtics pushed back behind the Walker/Daniel Theis combo. On four out of five possessions, Walker escaped double teams and assisted on four Theis baskets, including three consecutive mid-range jumpers. The two have developed a real chemistry since Walker’s return.


”It’s just about reading the game, to be honest,” Walker said. “Those are just the right plays. I’m being aggressive and I’m drawing two defenders and getting rid of the basketball and just trusting my teammates. That’s really it, just making a simple play.”

Theis finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds, and Walker had another solid night with 21 points and 8 assists.

⋅ Javonte Green started in place of Jaylen Brown, who sat out due to knee soreness, and played well in a season-high 33 minutes. He flashed his athleticism when he soared to snag a pass that was headed out of bounds before firing the ball to Theis for an open third-quarter 3-pointer. Then he added one of the bigger baskets of the game when Walker found him on a cut, a tough floater to pull the Celtics within 106-100 with just 2:39 left.

If that shot misses, the game is probably over.

⋅ With 7:28 left in the second quarter, Tatum blew past Wizards forward Rui Hachimura and threw down a violent, one-handed dunk over Lopez. Before he jogged back downcourt, he tapped Beal on the rear end, as if to say, ‘Did you see that one?’


”The last game I tried to dunk and I got stuffed by the rim,” Tatum said, “so I had to make up for that.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.