Tatum’s winner lifts Celtics over Nets; Heat rout Hawks in NBA playoffs

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics celebrates the game winning basket as Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the fourth quarter of Round 1 Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at TD Garden on April 17, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (AFP)

Jayson Tatum spun in for a buzzer-beating layup to give the Boston Celtics a dramatic 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 the best-of-seven series.

Tatum added eight assists and two blocked shots, Jaylen Brown added 23 points and Al Horford and Marcus Smart scored 20 apiece for Boston, 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. 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.

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.

“Our aggressiveness was great,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said of his team’s third-quarter performance. “It was different from the first half. I felt like, offensively, we got going as well, knocked a little bit of the rust off in the first half.”

In other early action, Miami 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.

“We saw the confident Duncan,” Butler said. “He doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He saw some threes and he made them and that’s what we need from him.”

The Hawks and their star guard Trae Young suffered through a miserable night against Miami’s defense.

‘Make it physical’

Young went 1-of-12 from the floor, 0-of-7 from 3-point range, and had a season-low eight points.

“Just make it physical on him, challenge every shot, make him pass,” Butler said of the Heat’s strategy to shut down Young. “He can score in bunches and we don’t want him to do that.”

Atlanta opened with its worst-shooting quarter and worst-shooting half of the season. Although they started 3-of-17 from the floor, the Hawks trailed only 23-17 after the first.

Miami surged ahead in the second quarter to a 59-40 halftime lead.

Young was only 1-of-9 in the first half as the Hawks went 11-for-38.

Asked if their defensive scheme had worked perfectly, Butler admitted, “We were really close. They missed a lot of shots.”

The Hawks welcomed back forward John Collins, who missed the past 18 games with foot and finger sprains, but were without star big man Clint Capela, out with a right knee injury.

Later opening games Sunday found Chicago at defending champion Milwaukee and New Orleans at Phoenix.

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