Ten o’clock games are tricky.
When the Celtics play at 9:30, I know I’ll be up past midnight watching until the end, and I’m OK with that. When they play at 10:30, I know I won’t make it, and I’m OK with that, too.
With this one taking some extra time due to the national TV logistics, and the Celtics up 19 midway through the third quarter, I figured I wouldn’t miss anything too crazy if I went to bed. Ha!
I woke up around 2 a.m. and briefly checked my phone to see that Jayson Tatum dropped 44 points. OK, no surprise there. He’s very good at basketball.
Wait a minute, does that say 122-18 Celtics in overtime? We talking about the same game here? Wow.
As I drifted back to sleep (yes, I managed to resist watching at 2 a.m.), a singular thought kept running through my mind: “How is Deuce Tatum already 5? They grow up so fast.” Oh wait no, that was the other day. This one was something along the lines of, “how the heck did the Celtics almost lose that game?”
With that question in mind, I turned on the TV this morning curious what went wrong. As the Lakers used a 32-5 run to storm back and eventually take a lead, the question quickly shifted to “how the heck did the Celtics win that game?”
I honestly think I said it out loud like 5-10 times in the fourth quarter. They trailed 106-93 with 3:52 left when LeBron James missed a very makable 3. It made me think: at that point, given what transpired against the Clippers, would Joe Mazzulla have taken his starters out if the lead had ballooned to 19?
The answer is probably yes, and it probably would have been the right decision. Sure, that Clippers game was part one of a back-to-back, and the Celtics never had such a sizable lead. Regardless, resting them with about three minutes left and the margin just about out of hand Tuesday would have been a logical move for a savvy rookie head coach.
Instead, James missed what could have been the dagger, Tatum snagged the rebound and found Grant Williams, and Williams calmly drilled a 3 to cut it to 106-96 with 3:40 remaining. OK. A little life.
Jayson Tatum, in his last 5 games vs. LeBron James, has averaged 37.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 56.5 FG%, 55.6 3P%— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) December 14, 2022
44 PTS, 9 REB, 51.7 FG%, 50.0 3P%
34 PTS, 8 REB, 59.1 FG%, 71.4 3P%
37 PTS, 11 REB, 50.0 FG%, 44.4 3P%
30 PTS, 9 REB, 66.7 FG%, 66.7 3P%
41 PTS, 5 REB, 60.0 FG%, 57.1 3P% pic.twitter.com/Ft3DIC0QhC
A comeback seemed slightly more likely but still improbable at that point, but wait a minute. Marcus Smart stole the inbound pass (the sneaky, lurky play we all try in pickup that almost never actually works) and laid it up for an easy two.
The Lakers still led by eight, then Russell Westbrook reverted to the head-scratching version of Russell Westbrook and took a contested 15-foot stepback that rimmed out. Tatum hit two free throws, Anthony Davis buried a tough jumper, Tatum canned a deep 3, James converted, then Smart did the same. Whoa! Basketball!
It was as frenetic and fun as it sounds, and it yielded a 110-105 lead for the Lakers with 2:03 left in regulation. It was wide open at that point.
Smart hit a 27-footer, Davis somehow missed two free throws and Tatum stuck one in James’ face to tie it with 17.1 seconds left. James missed a 3 as time expired. Overtime.
And that’s why you never give up. pic.twitter.com/WT5trTuJTa— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 14, 2022
It was truly wild. If you haven’t watched it, and you have it on DVR, it’s definitely worth it. What a comeback. This team is resilient.
“They did a great job taking ownership,” Mazzulla said. “They did a great job embracing the moment.”
One sneaky part about it is that Mazzulla subbed Luke Kornet in with 3:38 remaining and rode with him over Malcolm Brogdon and Blake Griffin. He deserves a lot of credit for trusting his gut in that situation. Davis and Westbrook were cooking, and Kornet helped slow them both down in the final minutes. The Celtics may or may not have sent it to overtime with Brogdon or Griffin, but there’s no question Kornet helped significantly.
But wait a minute. The game’s not over. The Celtics fell behind again, this time by four, in overtime. Williams canned another clutch 3, and Jaylen Brown and Tatum took over. It felt like all the Celtics had to do was get to OT, and once they did, the game was theirs.
“It shows the resilience of this team,” Brown said. “We fought back and got a win.”
This will likely go down as one of their most significant wins of the entire regular season. Aside from the obvious – beat a rival at the end of an eventful and taxing road trip – it was also meaningful because of how it transpired.
It would have been very easy for them to fold late in the fourth, but instead, they played inspired basketball and trusted what’s worked well all year. It wasn’t anything crazy. It was elite ball movement, hitting open shots and forcing the Lakers into contested jumpers.
The result was a 4-2 road trip, and that sounds a whole lot better than 3-3.
You can exhale, Celtics fans. The season isn’t over. It’s just beginning, and this team has heart.