MIAMI: Jayson Tatum spun in for a buzzer-beating layup to give the Boston Celtics a thrilling 115-114 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday in the first game of their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series. Tatum scored 31 points to lead the Celtics, who thwarted a fourth-quarter comeback bid by the Nets to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven first-round series.
The reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, Eastern Conference top seeds Miami and Western Conference top seeds Phoenix also won their playoff openers. The Bucks, led by NBA Most Valuable Player award finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo, beat the Chicago Bulls 93-86, and the Heat dominated the Atlanta Hawks 115-91.
In Phoenix, veteran point guard Chris Paul scored 19 of his 30 points in the second half as the Suns, who finished the regular season with the best record in the league, led wire-to-wire in a 110-99 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. In Boston, Tatum added eight assists and two blocked shots, Jaylen Brown added 23 points, and Al Horford and Marcus Smart scored 20 apiece for the Celtics, who took a 96-85 lead into the fourth quarter but trailed 114-111 with less than a minute to play.
Former Celtic Kyrie Irving, booed throughout by Boston fans who still resent his departure for Brooklyn, led the Nets with 39 points. However, Kevin Durant was the only other Nets starter in double figures with 23. Irving will no doubt hear from the NBA after a middle-finger salute to heckling fans in the third quarter, but he saved his best gesture for the fourth period, when he scored 18 points to key the Nets’ comeback bid.
Irving’s long three-pointer over Smart put Brooklyn up 114-111 with 1:04 to play. But the Celtics clamped down defensively and pulled within one on Brown’s driving layup. After Durant missed a three-pointer, Tatum, fed by Smart from across the lane, willed his way through traffic for the game-winner. “When he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact and he made a great pass and I just had to make a layup,” Tatum said of the final play.
A first half that featured 17 lead changes ended with the score knotted at 61-61, but the Celtics, who had been idle since their last regular-season game as the Nets battled through the play-in tournament, pulled away with a 39-24 third quarter. Irving was unrepentant after his response to Celtics fans. “It’s nothing new when I come into this building what it’s gonna be like, but it’s the same energy they had for me, and I’m gonna have the same energy for them,” he said.
However, Irving insisted his fan interaction shouldn’t be the focus of the contest. “It’s not about the fans,” Irving said. “The fans aren’t playing.” Durant said he didn’t think Irving worried about fans’ hostility. “I think he just plays his game and does what’s required out there tonight,” said Durant, who said the Nets could find ways to improve before game two on Wednesday. “Obviously the last play was crucial, but there was a lot of plays that mattered,” he said. “It’s a journey.”
Bucks blow lead
In Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo scored 27 points and pulled down 16 rebounds to lead the Bucks to victory, although foul trouble kept him on the bench for much of the fourth quarter. Montenegrin center Nikola Vucevic led the Bulls with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but missed two straight baskets in the paint in the final minute. The Bucks led by as many as 16 points in the first half, the Bulls taking the lead for the first time with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday drilled a go-ahead three-pointer with 5:03 remaining, and the Bulls wouldn’t get in front again. In Miami, Heat reserve Duncan Robinson scored a career playoff high 27 points, and the Heat defensively dominated Atlanta for a 115-91 victory. Robinson made 9-of-10 shots, including 8-of-9 from 3-point range, while Jimmy Butler added 21 points and P J Tucker contributed 16 for Miami. The Hawks and their star guard Trae Young suffered through a miserable night against Miami’s defense, Young connecting on just one of 12 shot attempts on the way to eight points. – AFP