1. Full disclosure, I have watched the Celtics epic comeback against the Spurs twice now, and I’m still struggling to put into words what happened. I’ve been watching the Celtics since the early-1980s. I’ve understood the game fairly well for over 30 years now. I’ve never seen anything like what happened on Friday night.
Boston was down by as many as 32 points at a few different times in the first half. At the break, San Antonio was up 77-48. No one would blame even the most ardent of Celtics fans if they turned the game off and did something else at that point.
In the first quarter, the Celtics scored just 16 points. 14 of those points came from Jayson Tatum on 6-of-9 shooting. The other 10 Boston players combined to score two points on 1-of-13 from the field. The Celtics also turned it over five times.
It was bad to start and nothing over the next 12 minutes of play did much to change it. Tatum was scoring, and scoring a lot. He had 10 more points in the second quarter. But at the half, the box score was basically:
Spurs – 77 points on 71.4% shooting with four turnovers
Tatum – 24 points on 52.9% shooting with zero turnovers
All other Celtics – 24 points on 24.1% shooting with eight turnovers
2. The second half was a different story for everyone but Tatum. He stayed great, but got a lot of help from his friends. Brad Stevens is fond of saying “We don’t need homeruns, just hit singles” and that’s exactly what the Celtics did. Little by little, Boston chipped away at San Antonio’s lead.
As bad as the non-Tatum Celtics were in the first half, they were that good after the break. Jaylen Brown scored 11 of his 17 points in the third quarter. All 16 of Aaron Nesmith’s points came in the second half and overtime. Tristan Thompson grabbed scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds, to go along with some great defense. Marcus Smart dropped eight of his 12 dimes after the break. Evan Fournier seemed to break out of his slump by making all three of his shots for eight points in the third quarter.
Simply put, Jayson Tatum was the ringleader, but he was joined by several others starring in their roles in this circus of a game. In the second half and OT, Boston outscored San Antonio 95-63. And it took every Celtic to get there.
NOTE: Normally, we group the Takeaways by themes. They might be players, or a specific thing that happened in the game. Over the next several takeaways, we’re going in chronological order of plays Boston made throughout the fourth quarter and OT. Call it “The Anatomy of a Comeback”.
3. The Celtics opened the fourth quarter with a set play to get Aaron Nesmith a three. This is really well-executed and Nesmith confidently buries the shot:
4. Jakob Poeltl played a nice game and can do some things. Guarding Jayson Tatum in the mid-post area off the dribble is not one of the things Poeltl can do:
5. If you want to make a miracle comeback, you need to make some uncommon plays. How about a four-point play from Tatum?
6. Remember that set play for Nesmith to open the fourth? Here it is again. DeMar DeRozan does a nice job of contesting this time. Nesmith doesn’t rush a jumper, but he also doesn’t just hold the ball or hot-potato it off to a teammate. Instead, it’s a quick drive to the hoop for the layup:
7. To pull off a rally, you need a little luck too. At this point in the game, Jayson Tatum has 37 points. How do you lose him of all people?
8. If it seems like we’re alternating Tatum and Nesmith highlights, it’s because they were both that good. This is a terrific stop-on-a-dime into a backdoor cut by Nesmith. Nice pass by Tristan Thompson too for the on-time jumper:
9. Tatum wasn’t going to be denied at this point. This is pretty good defense by the Spurs. They’re right on his shooting hand. Doesn’t matter:
10. “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity” is an apt quote to describe Nesmith once again tying the game late in the fourth:
11. After Tatum left a jumper juuuuust short at the buzzer it was off to overtime. The question was: Would the Celtics have the legs to complete the comeback? Nesmith had legs left:
12. This was a grown man’s finish from Tatum. He goes by the defender and shrugs off the contact from the shot-blocker for the layup:
13. Jaylen Brown was 4-of-23 from the floor and 3-of-11 from behind the arc when he took this shot. He never hesitated when this ball came his way. Postgame, Brown said “I knew I couldn’t miss forever.” In a game of big plays, Brown made one of the biggest:
14. How about one more big play from the rookie on a career night? Aaron Nesmith finished with 16 points, six rebounds and one huge steal:
15. Let’s close this very special version of the Takeaways with the guy who closed the game: Jayson Tatum.
Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to witness history. That’s what happened on Friday night. Sure, other Celtics stepped up as we called out, but Jayson Tatum willed Boston to this most-absurd victory in a very absurd season.
Tatum played the entirety of the fourth quarter and overtime. That’s 17 minutes. In those 17 minutes, Tatum had 31 points on 9-of-15 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
31 points in less than a quarter and a half. 21 in the fourth and 10 more in overtime.
For the game Tatum’s stats read:
20-of-37 field goals
15-of-17 free throws
0 turnovers (!)
It was the third 60-point game with no turnovers in NBA history. It was the first time a player in NBA history has scored 60 points with five assists and zero turnovers.
We can do superlatives all day long about Jayson Tatum. But all you really need to know is that he now shares Boston’s single-game scoring record with Larry Bird. When it’s you and Larry Bird atop a list together, you’ve achieved something special.