The two biggest plays in the Celtics’ Game 7 win over the Raptors came off tremendous hustle.
The first came with roughly a minute left and the Celtics leading 89-87 when Jayson Tatum missed a layup. Pascal Siakam got the rebound for the Raptors and passed the ball up to Norman Powell to lead the fast break. However, Powell couldn’t fully get past Marcus Smart, who blocked Powell’s layup attempt and denied the Raptors from tying the game.
“It’s funny because as soon as Norman caught the ball, instantly I remembered the last game that exact same play, he came at me full court and got the and-1,” Smart told reporters while recalling the play Powell made to put the Raptors up by four with less than a minute left in double overtime of Game 6. “When he caught the ball, in my mind I was just telling myself ‘he has to dunk it, I’m not going to give him no foul. I’m just going to meet him up top and see who wins that battle.’
“I bet on myself 110% of the time, and I’m First Team All-Defense for a reason, and I believe in that wholeheartedly,” Smart added. “My teammates believe in me and in a game like that, at a time like that, they knew, and I knew at the same time that it was going to be hard. I thought I was going to come up with the block and I did.”
Just a massive block from Marcus Smart pic.twitter.com/G4yukYQ7L1
— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) September 12, 2020
In the Celtics’ next trip down, rookie Grant Williams was fouled by Kyle Lowry while shooting. Williams – a 72.2 percent free-throw shooter during the regular season – missed both free throws to keep the Celtics’ lead at two. Williams got a break though as Tatum crashed the boards for the offensive rebound and was fouled by Powell.
With the Raptors in the bonus, Tatum went to the line were he made one-of-two free throws to give the Celtics a 90-87 lead with 34.9 seconds left.
“We pride ourselves on competing,” Tatum told reporters on hustle plays made in the final minutes of the game. “Toronto is the same. Neither one of us was going to back down. It was just who wanted it more. Or who could make a bigger play, whether it was Smart with the block or the offensive rebound I got. Just finding a way to impact the game.”
Huge offensive rebound from Tatum pic.twitter.com/QBVE5U7y7J
— Chris Grenham (@chrisgrenham) September 12, 2020
The plays from Smart and Tatum received praise from their head coach after the game.
“I thought the two plays of the night were Smart’s block and Tatum’s rebound,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “Those were both incredible effort plays by two of our best players.”
Stevens further praised Smart not just for his block, but also for other hustle plays he made throughout the game. Smart had three steals in Game 7 and Stevens credited the impact he brings to the Celtics.
“The hustle. The block. The toughness,” Stevens said. “He had a couple of loose balls, he almost came up with another couple of rebounds towards the end of the game. He’s a huge part of our team, he’s a huge part of our organization. I said this before the playoffs, we’ve gotten a chance to play in this great event every year he’s been here and it’s not a coincidence.”
Kemba Walker, who scored 14 points and dished out four assists, was in awe of Smart’s block after the game.
“That block was (laughs) that block was so special,” Walker said. “It was unreal. This is why he’s First Team All-Defense. He shows it night in, night out. He made so many huge plays tonight. A lot of the things he does just go unnoticed. But that kid, he’s special, man. He’s on a different level at that end of the basketball court.”
Tatum’s offensive rebound was really just one of many great plays Friday night. He scored a game-high 29 and reeled in a game-high 12 rebounds and dished out a game-high seven assists.
“It’s Game 7,” Tatum said. “You’ve got to give it all you’ve got. You don’t want to leave that game and think ‘what if’ or ‘what I could’ve done.’ Leave it all on the floor, and I think that’s what we did tonight. You’re going to make some mistakes, but we left it all out on the floor and got the result that we wanted.”
Walker said Tatum played like a superstar in Game 7 and if anyone had any doubts in his game, he proved them wrong.
“He’s a superstar and he showed it tonight,” Walker said. “Anybody that had any questions or doubted that, he showed it. Game 7. It’s the final game of the series. He got the biggest rebound of this series. Special, special kid. He works hard. He wants to win. He loves playing with his teammates. He was unbelievable tonight.”
🔥 @jaytatum0 comes up HUGE in GAME 7! 🔥
29 PTS | 12 REB | 7 AST | 4 3PM
ECF begin Tues. (9/15) on ESPN pic.twitter.com/ftHiZw88cb
— NBA (@NBA) September 12, 2020
Stevens remarked on how well-rounded Tatum’s game is, saying that he was able to handle everything the Raptors threw at him this series.
“He just has a great feel for the game,” Stevens said. “He’s seen a lot of different coverages. In this series, he saw everything you could possibly see. He’s done a great job handling it.
“Tatum’s really good. He does a lot of really good things,” Stevens added.
Stevens didn’t end the praising of Jayson Tatum there. Stevens complimented Tatum, who’s 22, and Jaylen Brown, who’s 23 and scored 21 points and had a game-high four steals on Friday, for how well they’ve handled playing in the playoffs at such a young age.
“You’re only scrutinized if you’re in the arena,” Stevens said. “Jaylen and Jayson are just like, this all they’ve done…now it will be three Eastern Conference Finals for Jaylen and two for Jayson. They’ve been in this stage and they’ve been huge parts of it. They’re young by every metric except playoff experience. And they have a lot of it. They make winning plays. I thought tonight they made winning plays.”
Stevens, Tatum and Brown will all have another the chance to finally break through and reach the NBA Finals when they face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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