Jayson Tatum rallies Celtics from 32-point deficit, ties Larry Bird's record with 60 points
BOSTON -- The first half of Friday night's game between the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs at TD Garden was bad enough that Celtics coach Brad Stevens' daughter didn't even stay to see how the rest of the game would play out.
"I would have left at halftime," Stevens said afterward. "I know my daughter left at halftime. She's got stuff to do tomorrow. There was no reason to stay."
It turned out that, for those who did choose to stick around Friday night, there was plenty to see, after all.
After trailing by as many as 32 points in the first half, the Celtics made a truly improbable comeback, eventually emerging with a thrilling 143-140 overtime victory over the Spurs. Boston's victory was the biggest comeback by a team in more than a decade, since the Sacramento Kings came back from 35 down to beat the Chicago Bulls in 2009, and the third-biggest in the past 25 years.
Adding to the drama of it all was Jayson Tatum's truly spectacular performance, in which he tied Larry Bird's franchise record with 60 points, including 31 in the fourth quarter and overtime alone. Tatum's son, Deuce, got to walk off with the well-earned game ball, while Tatum got showered by his teammates after returning to the locker room.
"It was a special night," Tatum said. "Just being around guys, playing with guys you enjoy being around, and are happy for your success ... we all see the hard work each and every one of us put in every day, so that when someone, myself or whoever it is, has a night like that, just to share that moment with them is special. Just to have your teammates be happy for you means everything."
While Tatum was certainly on his way to a brilliant individual performance in the first half, scoring 24 points, no one could've imagined when both teams went to the locker room that there was going to be a dramatic Boston comeback. Tatum was the only Celtic to score until Tristan Thompson put back an offensive rebound with 44.2 seconds to go in the first quarter -- the only points any Celtic besides Tatum scored in the opening period, which saw San Antonio race out to a 39-16 lead.
Things didn't get any better from there, either, as the Spurs -- who shot over 70% in the first half -- continued to pour it on, eventually taking a 77-48 lead into the halftime break.
"It's a matter of experience, mental toughness, understanding that there are a lot of plays and that's what the 48-minute game is all about," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, in explaining what happened to the Spurs in the second half. "People are going to make runs. You can't let yourself get down, because if you let it affect you, then all of a sudden transition defense isn't as good. You are not as physical with the half-court defense, you get a little bit sloppy and try to do maybe things too quickly on offense, where the ball was moving before and all of a sudden it stops because their defensive pressure is up.
"So it's a lot of things, we did that. It's a tough, tough lesson, but that's the way it is."
Things began to change in the third quarter, when a 42-point explosion from Boston got the deficit down to a manageable 13 points heading into the fourth. From there, Tatum took over, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter and another 11 in overtime to help drag the Celtics over the finish line and complete a truly remarkable comeback.
"That boy is destined for greatness," said fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown, who was 5-for-24 on the night but hit the game's biggest shot -- a 3-pointer in the corner with 16.7 seconds to go in overtime that gave Boston the lead for good.
"I couldn't throw a rock into the ocean tonight, and JT carried us to a win, man. He played hard. He led us tonight."
While Tatum certainly led the way, it helped that his teammates finally started seeing the shots that wouldn't go down in the first half begin falling for them in the second. Boston shot 13-for-20 from 3-point range in the second half and overtime, allowing the Celtics to power their way back into the contest and win the game.
Boston also got big minutes from rookie Aaron Nesmith, who had the best game of his career by far, playing down the stretch and in overtime and finishing with 16 points and six rebounds, including a couple of critical offensive rebounds and putback buckets to help tip the scales in Boston's favor late in the game.
"I think just the best part was obviously coming back and winning and just seeing everyone contribute," Tatum said. "Obviously myself and JB, the big shot he hit at the end. [Marcus] Smart all night. Tristan [Thompson] on the glass, and Rob [Williams]. And Aaron came in and played unbelievable tonight.
"I think that just kind of shows the growth of our team, just everybody contributing, obviously down 30 points and just figuring out a way to win the game."
The Celtics had a chance to end the game in regulation after Tatum buried a 3-pointer with 38 seconds to go in the fourth to put Boston ahead for the first time since the game's opening moments. But after Tatum was fouled and made one of two free throws with 18.8 seconds to go, DeMar DeRozan -- who had his own terrific performance, finishing with 30 points and 14 assists in 42 minutes -- drove to the hoop and drew a foul on Marcus Smart, and tied the game at 128 with both free throws with 10.8 seconds to go.
Tatum then had a shot at a buzzer-beater, but his clean look at a turnaround jumper hit the front of the rim and bounced away, sending the game to an extra session.
"If he would have made the shot at the end of regulation, he wouldn't have tied Bird's record," Stevens said with a smile. "So, maybe that was all a big part of his plan."
The two teams went back and forth in overtime, as well, with baskets on four straight possessions -- a Tatum layup, a DeRozan and-1, another Tatum jumper and a Lonnie Walker IV jumper -- in the final 90 seconds changing the lead each time.
Ultimately, though, Brown's corner 3-pointer put Boston ahead for good -- a lead that was kept first by Nesmith stealing San Antonio's ensuing inbounds pass, and then by Tatum knocking down four straight free throws to get to 60 on the night, tying Bird's record and sending the fans who stuck around home happy they stayed to see an unforgettable performance.
"It's definitely something I'll remember forever," Nesmith said. "Jayson's absolute career high, the 30-plus-point deficit we overcame. I've never even seen that in person or watched it, and then to be a part of it was just incredible. So definitely something I'll always remember."