Even with the benefit of several hours of distance and a full re-watch… just wow.
That was one of the best basketball games this author has ever seen. It felt like a Finals Game 7 wrapped up in a first round Game 1 package. Both teams threw knockout blows, but both just kept coming. And in the end, as the buzzer sounded, the Boston Celtics knocked off the Brooklyn Nets for a 1-0 series lead.
Grab a coffee, strap in and get ready for a jumbo-sized 2022 Playoffs version of the Takeaways.
2. It would be disingenuous to start with anyone but Jayson Tatum. He was the best two-way player on the floor in Game 1. Not only did Tatum score 31 points and dish out eight assists, but he was the primary defender against Kevin Durant almost all game and helped to hold the Nets star to 9- of-24 shooting.
There was a lot of build-up pre-series that Nicolas Claxton might be the Nets best defender on Tatum. Claxton had his moments, but Tatum got the best of him more often than not. Here’s Tatum going right through Claxton for a big finish:
If you want to beat a superstar, sometimes you have to make superstar plays of your own:
This just isn’t something that happens to Durant very often, but Tatum plays perfect defense here:
Right after that block, Tatum got Claxton again. This time it was with Tatum’s signature shot:
Yes…Tatum also made the biggest shot of his life to date. We’ll get to it. We promise!
3. Boston did a wonderful job on Kevin Durant. A lot of it was Jayson Tatum, but several others stepped up and held their own. A big part of things were quick hands.
Durant tends to swing the ball low before bringing it up very high for his shot. Daniel Theis does a great job here with the strip before Durant could get the ball up:
A little later, it was Grant Williams turning defense into offense with a strip before racing the other way for a layup:
If there was ever any question how much Al Horford has left, this play should answer that. Horford moves his feet to stay in front of Durant and then he’s all over the shot without fouling:
4. Beyond that great stop above, Al Horford turned in one of his best performances of the season in Game 1. Horford finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. He was a dominant force inside for Boston, especially against mismatches like this:
In the fourth quarter, the Nets lack of size showed up when Horford went to the offensive glass several times. Horford in the paint against three guards results in a big putback:
5. Boston doesn’t win without Jaylen Brown getting going in a major way in the second half. First, he played a little bully-ball against Bruce Brown inside:
This is end-to-end hustle and the desire to make a play when his team needed it from Brown:
Whenever it felt like the Nets were threatening to create some distance, Boston made a play. This time around it was Brown hitting the clutch triple off some good ball movement:
6. We’ll have another article coming on things that need cleaned up before Game 2, but one initial thing stands out: Taking advantage of the bonus. Yes, Boston shot 24 free throws, but they should have shot even more. The Celtics had the Nets in foul trouble early in almost every quarter. But, as they are prone to do, Boston started relying on jumpers vs attacking.
That’s leaving free points off the board. And you can’t afford to give away points against Brooklyn.
7. The Celtics scored 21 fastbreak points and a whopping 50 total points in transition for the game. That’s stealing easy offense, which is always a key in the playoffs. It was clear from the jump that Boston wanted to push the ball whenever they could.
This hard push by Marcus Smart to find Jaylen Brown was off a made basket by the Nets:
After Jayson Tatum ripped this ball from Bruce Brown, watch the Nets. All but Brown freezes. Not Tatum and Al Horford. The result is an alley-oop dunk on Brown that had to feel pretty good for Horford:
It wasn’t a great game for Payton Pritchard off the bench, but this sort of transition triple isn’t a bad shot from him:
Great hustle by Jaylen Brown to break this play up. Then Horford and Tatum turn defense into offense with another transition dunk:
8. Almost immediately after the buzzer sounded, Marcus Smart was named as a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. No, this game didn’t influence that, as votes were due a week ago. But Smart still made his case with a couple of DPOY plays.
First, this is perfect verticality. Maybe whoever says only rim protectors can be the DPOY was right. They just forgot to include Smart as one of those rim protectors:
And you can always count on Smart to make a Smart play:
9. Doctor Strange saw 14,000,605 possible outcomes and the Avengers only beat Thanos in one of them. Feels like that math was similar for the Celtics against the Nets on Sunday. It took a perfect series of closing sequences in the endgame for Boston to win.
The Celtics had to keep the 2-for-1 alive to have a chance. Jaylen Brown goes at just the right time here:
Before this clip started, Marcus Smart put the clamps on Kyrie Irving and forced him to give the ball up. Then Jayson Tatum defends this Kevin Durant jumper about as perfectly as possible. And, last but not least, Al Horford comes up with the game’s biggest rebound:
There’s so much happening on this final play. Ime Udoka said postgame that he always wants his guys to push in transition and to have trust that he’ll call timeout if they need it.
There was a game earlier in the season where Jaylen Brown had no assists and took a whole bunch of shots. There wasn’t a lot of trust back then. Now, Brown makes the hard push and trusts that Marcus Smart will make the right play as he kicks it out.
Smart said that the team has trust in each other that if they make the right cut, they’ll make the right pass. Smart could have taken this shot two different times. Instead, it’s a perfect pass to Jayson Tatum for the perfect spin and finish:
Trust, trust, trust. Trust indeed.
10. It’s a good thing there are two days off before Game 2. Everyone needs an extra day.
The Celtics didn’t play perfectly, but rare is the perfect playoff game. The playoffs are about making plays when you need to make them.
Boston spent the early months of the season giving no one reason to believe they’d make the right plays in the clutch. Now, they have that faith and trust in each other. And the fans believe they’ll come through too.
Game 2 is on Wednesday, April 20 at 7:00 PM ET.