It was never going to be easy to topple Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, and in the first game of the series, the Boston Celtics found out just how tough it might be. Having lead by as many as 15 points on the afternoon, the Celtics watched their lead crumble away down the stretch in the fourth quarter, but held on and scored a miraculous sequence as time expired to slip away with the one-point win.
Jayson Tatum shoulder a massive burden this afternoon in a game where the Celtics’ vaunted depth didn’t produce many results. He played 45 minutes in the game, including the entire second half, and shrugged off aggressive Brooklyn coverages to pile on 31 points and dish 8 assists for the afternoon. Backing him up was Al Horford, who feasted against a super-small Nets roster to the tune of 20 points and 15 boards (six offensive), and 20+ point performances from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
Kyrie Irving responded to a rowdy TD Garden crowd with a blistering scoring performance, leading the Nets with 39 points and spearheading a massive fourth quarter run to erase a double-digit Celtics lead. The Nets also enjoyed a quality game from their bench, particularly Goran Dragic, who tacked on a surprise 14 points. But the Celtics managed to frustrate Kevin Durant, who shot just 9-of-24 on the afternoon.
With playoff adrenaline running high, the tone of the game’s early minutes was frenetic and aggressive. Neither team found much in the way of scoring, as the Celtics started out by missing some open looks, while the Nets recorded as many turnovers as made baskets (four) through the first half of the opening quarter. Fouls also piled up quickly, as the Celtics found themselves in the bonus just four minutes into the afternoon.
Brooklyn’s star duo of Durant and Irving started out cold, combining to shoot just 1-of-8 from the field in the first quarter. While they scuffled, though, the Nets’ supporting cast carried the weight, led by seven early points from Curry. The two teams combined for a whopping 18 fouls (nine each) in the first quarter, and headed to the second with the Celtics ahead by one, 29-28.
Horford was the hero for the Celtics as Tatum and Brown struggled with slow starts. He scored 14 points in the first half, including a pair of made three-pointers. The Nets defense significantly keyed in on Tatum in particular, taking away opportunities to create shots and forcing him to operate as a playmaker. He moved the ball admirably, dishing seven first-half assists, but the Celtics clearly missed his scoring punch.
The Nets began to inch ahead as the second quarter carried on. They took the lead on a trio of free throws by Irving (coming off of Daniel Theis’ third foul) and built a modest three-point lead in the ensuing minutes. Finally, though, the Celtics shook off the rust. Tatum hit a fadeaway two-pointer over Durant, then followed it with a three on the next possession, before Marcus Smart made a spectacular play at the rim to deny Durant and set up Brown with a fast break layup. The teams juggled the lead back and forth from there, and headed into the halftime break tied at 61.
The Celtics kicked off the second half with an 11-2 run, led — of course — by Marcus Smart. Smart swiped an errant inbounds pass from Irving to set up an easy left-handed jam, and followed it up with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. He scored 11 points in the half as the Celtics stretched their lead into double-digits, leading by as much as 15.
The Nets were not about to roll over. They broke the run with a pair of Irving free throws and a timely three-pointer from Dragic to trim the Celtics lead back down to nine. Tatum continued to cook, though, answering the Nets mini-run with a three-pointer and a pair of freebies of his own. He pushed his scoring total to 27 through three quarters, and the Celtics entered final quarter ahead by 11, 96-85.
Brooklyn came out swinging as the final quarter began, rattling off a quick 10-2 run behind a pair of Irving threes to cut the Boston lead all the way back down to one possession. After a timeout from Ime Udoka, the Nets completed the comeback, as an Irving layup and a Durant three-pointer flipped the score once again and put the Nets ahead 100-98 with just under eight minutes to play.
The run reached 17-2 before the Celtics finally found a basket. With the Nets ahead by four, Brown caught Bruce Brown in the air and rumbled to the basket for a clean dunk. He followed it up with another inside finish after a Nets tip-in, but Irving responded with his fifth three of the game to put the Nets ahead by five, prompting another Udoka timeout.
Brown continued to rise to the occasion as the clock ticked down. With just under four minutes to play, he connected on his first three-pointer of the game to pull the Celtics within two. Moments later, despite scuffling for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter, the Celtics tied the game up, as Smart beat Irving off the dribble for a layup to even the score at 107 apiece.
After a Steve Nash timeout, Irving and Derrick White traded baskets to push the score to 109 all. The teams went quiet from there, going scoreless over the next couple of minutes as the anxious TD Garden crowd waited to find out who would land the crucial haymaker. It would be Durant who struck first, hitting one of his signature mid-range jumpers to push the Nets ahead by two, only for Horford to answer on the other end to tie it back up.
Irving put a bow on his massive performance with a deep three-pointer to put the Nets ahead by three with just under a minute to play. In an ordinary game, that might have been the dagger. This was no ordinary game, however. The Celtics picked up a quick layup on the other end and forced a missed three from Durant, and then, in a colossally bold move by Udoka, ran up court with seconds remaining on the clock. Smart found Tatum under the basket, and he scored the layup as time expired to land the Celtics a one-point win.
Next up, the series rolls forward, as the Celtics and Nets square off at TD Garden for Game 2 this Wednesday at 7 PM EST on TNT.
For more postgame coverage of Boston’s thrilling Game 1 win, tune into the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown.