Nick Adamopoulos –
The Celtics entered the fourth quarter of their game one matchup with the Brooklyn Nets up 96-85. Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford had all put together three quarters of dominance, backing up the team’s astonishing record since January 2022 started. However, the Nets, anchored by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, began to slowly chip away at the Celtic’s lead throughout the fourth quarter. Irving finished the game with 39 points, including 24 of those points in the fourth quarter. Irving sunk a three pointer with 45 seconds left in the game to put the Nets up by three.
Less than thirty seconds later, the Celtics found themselves down by one with 10 seconds left in the game. Jaylen Brown was able to control the ball on the defensive end, and first year head coach Ime Udoka decided to let his team play out the clock rather than use the team’s final timeout. Udoka was awarded for this confidence in his young Celtic team. Within that final 10 seconds, all five Celtics on the floor touched the ball, before Smart found a streaking Tatum in the paint. Smart’s pass found a streaking Tatum with 1.1 seconds left; after getting the pass Tatum spun around a Nets’ defender and laid in the ball. And just like that, the Celtics walked off the Garden Parquet winners of game one 115-114, The Nets’ defender that Tatum spun around for the winning basket? None other than Kyrie Irving.
Irving may have been the best player on the floor last night, but the Celtics were the better all-around team. Game hero Tatum finished with 31 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds; reliable big man Al Horford chipped in 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 assists; defensive player of the year finalist Marcus Smart had 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists; and Jaylen Brown had 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists of his own. While the big four of the Celtics all contributed offensively, it was their defensive intensity that helped win this vital Game 1. The Celtics are built to switch through screens and to play face to face defense, and the Celtics did that all evening. Nets’ star Kevin Durant finished with 23 points, but only had 7 of those in the first half after being defended by Brown, Tatum, and Smart throughout the first half.
Home court advantage was protected last night. A game the Celtics had control of for three quarters began to slowly slip away in the fourth quarter, but this Celtics team, the one who matured as the season progressed, was able to find a way to pull off the win. The win put the Nets on notice, this isn’t the same team that the Nets walked over last postseason. This win put the Eastern Conference on notice, the Celtics that dominated the second half of the season are the same Celtics going into these playoffs. The Celtics showed they belong and will have two full days of rest before Game 2 tips off at 7:00 pm on Wednesday night.
There are still some unknowns that might tip the balance of this series as it moves forward. Over the weekend rumblings came out of the Nets organization that Ben Simmons has started to practice with the team and could be activated during the series. Simmons would bring another element to the Nets, a top tier defender who can defend all five positions on the court. While the Nets got good news about Simmons, the Celtics also got some positive news, as it appears big man Robert Williams is progressing towards returning to the floor. The most ideal situation for the Celtics? The team finds a way to get through this Nets team and find themselves in round 2 with the return of Williams to the starting lineup.