BOSTON -- As the Boston Celtics’ 24-point lead over Portland melted away, Kemba Walker could do nothing but watch it unfold from the bench.
He’s on a minutes restriction and had exhausted all of his allotted playing time.
So this left the Celtics in a down-to-the-wire fight without their best closer, the kind of scenario that they may very well find themselves in during the playoffs.
Boston had lots of late-game options to choose from, but none delivered with the effectiveness and efficiency of Jaylen Brown whose dagger with 31.8 seconds to play would prove to be just what the Celtics needed to escape with a 128-124 win.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.
Leading 122-119, Jayson Tatum drove to the basket and drew Carmelo Anthony away from Brown, which created just enough space for a 3-pointer that would go far in helping the Celtics escape with the win - their first under the bubble in Orlando, Fla.
Brown, who finished with 30 points for Boston, delivered big shots.
“He’s got confidence, for sure,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Brown. “Jaylen was enormous tonight.”
But he wasn’t alone which serves as a reminder as to why the Celtics (44-12) are considered one of the favorites to come out of the East this season.
Tatum, coming off one of his worst games of the season in Friday’s loss to Milwaukee, had a game-high 34 points and a career-high eight assists.
Gordon Hayward was a problem for the Blazers as well. He tallied 22 points and eight rebounds.
Even though Walker played just 22 minutes, he still had 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
It was indeed a balanced, collective effort for the Celtics, well aware it was the kind of performance that they’ll need going forward in their quest to go as deep into the postseason as possible.
Here’s a look at some of the other standouts from Boston’s four-point win over Portland.
Damian Lillard: The Boston Celtics had no answer for Lillard in the second half on Sunday when he scored 22 of his 30 points, most of which came from behind - way, way, way behind - the 3-point line.
Jayson Tatum: After going 2-for-18 against Milwaukee on Friday, Tatum had the kind of bounce-back game that bodes well both for the Celtics and for his confidence going forward. He led all players with 34 points which included a free throw in the closing seconds to seal the victory. He also dished out a career-high eight assists.
Jusuf Nurkic: After missing most of the season due to injuries, Nurkic is making up for lost time. His scoring, rebounding and overall playmaking gave the Celtics fits most of the game. He would finish with a near double-double of 30 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Gordon Hayward: The versatility factor continues to be Hayward’s calling card. He provided a little bit of everything the Celtics needed before finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Carmelo Anthony: It was a rough night at both ends of the floor for Anthony who tallied 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. And with Melo on the floor, the Blazers were a minus-13.
Celtics’ third quarter: This is when Boston’s two-way dominance was nowhere to be found. The Blazers shot better than 61 percent from the field in the third and committed just one turnover which wiped out the dominance Boston had enjoyed throughout the first half.
Second unit surprises
Enes Kanter: Boston’s ability to pull away in the first half was aided in part by Kanter’s activity around the glass. He would come off the Celtics’ bench and finish with a near double-double of 11 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes.
Gary Trent Jr.: Portland’s second-half comeback was fueled in part by Trent Jr.’s clutch shots in the second half. The backup Blazers guard finished with 21 points which included him shooting 7-for-11 from 3-point range.