Jayson Tatum’s 60-point performance helped the Celtics rally from a 32-point deficit and topple the Spurs on Friday, 143-140. Here are seven thoughts about the wild night at TD Garden.
▪ Tatum’s final line was remarkable: 60 points, 20 for 37 from the field, 15 for 17 from the foul line, 8 rebounds, 5 assists. But the fact that he did not commit a turnover in his 45 minutes, 20 seconds may have been the most stunning stat of all. Tatum had 22 turnovers over his previous five games, and he had the ball in his hands consistently during this intense, draining night.
▪ It certainly didn’t feel significant at the time, because the Celtics were still getting pummeled and the deficit actually expanded a bit during their time on the court, but Grant Williams and Tremont Waters had an essential six-minute stint to start the second quarter. Tatum scored 14 of Boston’s 16 first-quarter points and the rest of the team had barely shown a pulse on offense.
Then Waters assisted on a pair of Williams 3-pointers and drilled one of his own. When Williams added a dunk at the 6:29 mark, the two had combined to score 11 of the Celtics’ first 14 points of the second.
▪ The Celtics did catch a break from the officiating crew and the instant replay rules in the final minute of overtime. With 31.2 seconds left and Boston trailing, 137-136, coach Brad Stevens drew up a sideline inbounds lob to Robert Williams. He called this play so that even if it failed, the Celtics could get another chance to defend without fouling.
Spurs center Jakob Poeltl leaped and knocked the ball into the hands of a teammate. But a foul was called. The foul was challenged by the Spurs and overturned, and that turned out to be the worst-case scenario for San Antonio. Even though the Spurs had gathered possession, the result was a jump ball. Robert Williams easily won the tip, and about 15 seconds later Jaylen Brown drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner.
If no foul had been called — the proper ruling — the Spurs would have had the ball and the lead. If the foul had stood, a 63.8 percent free throw shooter would had gone to the line with his team down by 1. Instead, it ended with a deficit for San Antonio.
▪ But when Tatum was fouled as he converted a layup with 4.2 seconds left in OT and the Celtics ahead by 1, it certainly looked like it should have been a chance for a 3-point play. It was well within the rules of a continuation basket, but it was called as on the floor. It didn’t end up mattering, because the Spurs were unable to get off a potential tying shot.
The Celtics opted not to foul as the Spurs rushed upcourt in search of that 3-pointer, and in the NBA that’s probably the smart play. These players are crafty, and the odds of one turning an intentional foul into a 3-point-shooting foul are probably higher than executing the perfect full-court play in four seconds.
▪ Aaron Nesmith’s emergence the past two games has been one of the more surprising parts of this surprising season. The rookie struggled earlier this season. He was a shooter without confidence in his shot, and the speed of the NBA clearly rattled him. About three weeks ago, Nesmith fell out of Boston’s rotation and certainly didn’t seem in position to have a role this postseason.
But he has played a key role in the last two wins, Stevens leaning heavily on him in the clutch. Nesmith played every second of both fourth quarters and Friday’s overtime. He scored a career-high 15 points Wednesday and topped that with 16 on Friday, on 7-of-9 shooting.
“Every time I get to play and every time I get to run up and down and get into the flow of the game, it just starts coming more naturally,” Nesmith said, “and it’s just becoming a lot more fun.”
If the Celtics are healthy in the postseason — a big if with this team — Stevens will suddenly have some difficult choices to make with his bench.
▪ Tatum’s young son, Deuce, was not in attendance when Tatum scored 53 points in the April 9 win over the Timberwolves. Afterward, Tatum said he would just have to score 50 again sometime with his son in attendance. He probably didn’t think it would happen three weeks later.
“To score a career high and win a game like this while he’s there front and center watching,” Tatum said, “it’s something I’ll never forget, and we’ll be able to talk about it when he gets a little older.”
▪ Evan Fournier’s massive slump since returning from his COVID-19-related absence continued in the first half Friday. He started by missing a 3-pointer, turning the ball over, and then getting smoked by DeMar DeRozan for a layup. In the second quarter, Fournier lined up a pair of wide-open 3-pointers, but they were not close to going in.
But he showed some hopeful signs as the Celtics crafted their third-quarter run, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and coming up with a steal and a fast-break layup. Stevens said Fournier continues to deal with aftereffects of the coronavirus, and that the medical staff believes the best way to break out of it is by playing through it. If that’s the case, getting Fournier into a sustained groove before the playoffs should be one of the top priorities the next two weeks.