BOSTON – Jason Tatum insisted the Boston Celtics’ game with the Brooklyn Nets wasn’t an opportunity to prove anything against the league’s two top scorers.
His ending in Game 1 said otherwise.
Tatum took a corner kick at the bell after a pass from Marcus Smart to give Boston a dramatic 115-114 victory on Sunday in the first game of the first-round series.
Tatum said of Smart: “When he took that dribble we kind of made eye contact. He made a great pass. It couldn’t have been better. Bell beat in a home playoff.”
Tatum scored 31 points, the last two on the first whistle of his career. It was Boston’s first in a post-season since Paul Pierce in 2010 against the Miami Heat.
Bucket Tatum came through in possession of Boston balanced in the frantic final seconds. After Kevin Durant missed the other end, the Celtics rebounded and raced onto the field, choosing not to call a timeout.
Jaylen Brown dribbles into the middle and swings the ball to Smart. He then shoots it into Tatum’s piece, which spins around and falls into the layup just before time is up.
Smart said, “I’ve always been told you have more time than you realize you have. I was about to throw it at Al [Horford] From shuffle, I saw JT cut off at the last minute. ”
All five Celtics teams touched the ball in possession.
“I think this is kind of a microcosm of our season,” Boston coach Im Odoka said. “The players who move the ball are selfless.”
Dating back to the last post-season, Tatum has had four consecutive 30-point playoff games, matching Larry Bird in 1987 for the longest streak in Celtics history.
Brown added 23 points. Horford scored 20 points and 15 rebounds. Smart finished with 20 points, including four three-pointers.
Kyrie Irving put 39 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter. But the Celtics took the ball out of their hands the last time Brooklyn got the ball, and Durant missed the jump by one point, leading to the Celtics’ final possession.
Durant added 23 points but shot 9 of 24.
“They did a good job of forcing me to step away, and then helping to paint. I had to be more substantial in my movements,” Durant said. “I feel like some shots went in and out for me.”
Boston kicked off the break 23-8 to open an 82-69 lead, ignited by Smart’s dead shot from behind the arc.
The Celtics also appear to be modifying their approach to Durant’s guard in the half, facing him and sending assists to the top to limit his ability to lead.
Durant and Irving still found ways to score, but they had to put in more energy to get rid of their attempts.
did not last.
With Boston taking an early lead in fourth, Irving put Brooklyn back into the mix with 3 consecutive throws and throws to trim Boston’s advantage to 98-97. After an empty flight from Boston which saw Brown and Horford fail to divert from approach, Durant quietly exhausted 3 on the other end.
Brooklyn increased its lead to 107-102 when Durant was tall with a jacket. Brown found space in the Celtics’ next possession and called 3 from the winger. Returned the net after an offensive error on Durant. Smart then slipped under Irving on her sure Boston flight and hooked it up.
The score was tied again at 109 with less than two minutes remaining when Durant received a friendly rebound on a jump. Horford’s next shot tied again. But Irving did well from the depths the next time the Nets gave a 114-111 cushion.
Brown then tied it in with a timeout with 38 seconds left.
On his last trip to face his former Boston teammates, Irving received the loudest taunts during pre-game introductions and booed whenever he touched the ball the rest of the way.
Fans also drew much contempt for Bruce Brown, who made headlines last week after suggesting that Horford and Daniel Theiss top Celtics men could be easy to attack indoors without a third injured Robert Williams available to defend the edge.
Horford played the opening 12 minutes as if he was on a solo mission to erase that notion.
Boston entered the top defensive rank in the league since breaking the All-Star and putting pressure early on Durant. He tried to pin himself to the post in the first quarter, but the Celtics stripped his butt defenders, stripping him three times.
Brooklyn finished seven turnovers for the quarter, but translated to a 29-28 lead only for Boston.
Horford was active all the time, going 3-4 from the field with 10 points, two rebounds and a steal.
Boston had to adjust early in the second quarter after Theiss made his third foul. But things got worse when Andre Drummond, center of Brooklyn, was blown for his fourth foul with 4:58 remaining in that period.
The Celtics quickly took a 9-2 lead, before the Nets came back to tie the game at 61 in the first half.
“I kept that up, they hit their shot and they found a way to finish the game,” Horford said. “End of the day, it’s just about winning; it doesn’t matter how it was.”
ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.