SALT LAKE CITY – Jayson Tatum stole the spotlight from Jaylen Brown and Markelle Fultz Monday night by canning the game-winning jumper with 5.7 seconds left to give the Celtics an 89-88 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tatum, who scored 11 points during the pivotal fourth quarter, said after the game that he just wanted to get back to familiar territory for his clutch shot attempt.
“The shot I made before, it was maybe a minute or a couple of possessions before, was in the same spot,” he told reporters with his quiet, subdued voice. “So I was just trying to get back to the middle of the floor.”
Tatum took control of the ball near the left sideline between the mid-court line and the 3-point line with 15.0 seconds left on the clock and with Philadelphia leading 88-87. He attacked his defender, Alex Poythress, off the dribble from there.
He used a quick in-and-out dribble with his right hand to create separation before rising up from about 18 feet and rattling home the jumper.
Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen, who is serving as the team’s head coach in Salt Lake City, called the play for Tatum. He didn’t know what Tatum would do with the ball, but he knew he wanted this year’s No. 3 overall pick to play in space and make the winning play via either the shot or the pass.
“I just felt like he was going to make the right basketball play, whether the ball went in or not,” Allen commented. “Throughout the game, he posted up, he made 3s, he made pull-ups, he attacked the paint. And I said at that point, his body of work up until that point was just what gave me kind of the confidence to say, ‘Jayson can do something with it.’”
Philadelphia had a chance to win the game following Tatum’s bucket, but No. 1 overall pick Fultz had his reverse layup blocked at the rim by Brown shortly before time expired.
Boston’s clutch victory didn’t come easy. The team trailed by as many as 15 points late in the third quarter before it staged an incremental comeback.
Philadelphia owned an 11-point lead with less than 10 seconds left in the third period before Demetrius Jackson and Abdel Nader combined to score four points during the final 4.2 seconds of the frame. Jackson scored two points off of a driving finger roll, and Nader then picked off the ensuing inbound pass and tossed in a floater as time expired to cut the deficit to 71-64.
That four-point swing gave the Celtics momentum, and they used it to their advantage during the early portions of the fourth quarter.
Tatum scored the first three points of the final period off of a running, and-one dunk shot, and Brown scored the next two points from the free-throw line to pull Boston to within 71-69. Semi Ojeleye eventually tied the game up at 73-73 when he canned a 3-pointer with 8:12 left in the game off of a pass from Demetrius Jackson.
The teams went back and forth from there, as the contest remained a one-possession game for nearly all of the final eight minutes of the night before Tatum’s game-winning basket.
“I applaud them for getting down by double-digits and not hanging their head and just figuring it out,” Allen said of his players pulling off the comeback win. “I told them it’s a series of one-possession games, and when we needed to get stops, we got stops.”
Tatum, playing in his first professional basketball game, finished the contest with 21 points, seven rebounds, five steals and three assists. Brown, meanwhile, was the top performer of the night with his game-high totals of 29 points and 13 rebounds.
Fultz led the 76ers in scoring with 17 points, though he committed four turnovers while dishing out only one assist. Timothe Luwawu-Caba added in 16 points of his own for Philadelphia.
Boston is now 1-0 in Salt Lake City, while Philadelphia fell to 0-1. Both teams will be off Tuesday for the Fourth of July holiday.
The Celtics return to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday night when they take on the San Antonio Spurs.