The Boston Celtics escaped Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets on a crazy buzzer-beater by Jayson Tatum, but that was far from the only impressive play during that final sequence.
Jaylen Brown got the ball and drove baseline, but instead of forcing the issue, he realized he didn't have an angle and kicked the ball out to Marcus Smart on the perimeter. Smart easily could've shot a 3-pointer, but faked to get two Nets players behind him.
Tatum, meanwhile, saw that the right decision was to cut toward the basket for a potential pass or to crash the boards for a rebound on a missed shot. His heads-up play resulted in a pass from Smart and a layup through contact from Nets guard Kyrie Irving to secure a 115-114 victory.
"It was a scramble play," Nets star Kevin Durant said of the final possession. "They made a couple passes. They were able to find a little crease there at the end, quick play."
What was going through Tatum's mind on that final possession? He explained in his postgame press conference.
"Honestly, I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it," Tatum said after the game. "Last-second shot, just crash the glass, but if it doesn’t go in, try to make a play. When he took that that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact. He made a great pass. I just had to make a layup."
Anyone who's watched the Celtics the entire season knows that final play showed the massive leap forward Boston has made in fourth quarter execution since the start of the season. The Celtics struggled quite a bit over the first two-to-three months of the campaign, straddling the .500 mark while failing to put away teams with bad shot selection and too many turnovers in crunch time.
Instead of resorting to the isolation ball that plagued them late in games early in the season, the Celtics made several unselfish plays on the game-winner Sunday.
"I think it just shows the progression of our team. How far we've come," Tatum said. "From (Opening Night), and that first two months, obviously we were struggling. We've just been playing the right way the last couple months. That's the reason why we've been so successful, especially in big moments. It's all about trying to make the right play."
Forsberg: Why Tatum's buzzer-beater is a crucial step forward for C's
Coming into the series, you had to like the Nets' chances if these games were close, given Durant and Irving's impressive resumes of playoff heroics.
But the Celtics hung tough late in Sunday's game, erased a small Nets lead in the final minutes and played high-level basketball at both ends of the floor when it mattered most.
It was the kind of late-game execution the Celtics need to show on a consistent basis if they're going to contend for a championship in 2022.
Note: Games 2-6 of the Brooklyn Nets-Boston Celtics series will be aired exclusively on NBC Sports Boston and can also be streamed on NBCSportsBoston.com or with the MyTeams App, which you can download below.