Jayson Tatum Lifts Celtics Past Raptors, Sets Up Conference Final vs. Heat

Jayson Tatum Lifts Celtics Past Raptors, Sets Up Conference Final vs. Heat

Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressThe Boston Celtics closed out their thrilling Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Toronto Raptors after defeating the defending NBA champions 92-87 in Game 7 on Friday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Bay Lake, Florida.Two key defensive possessions propelled Boston to victory.With Boston up 89-87 with under one minute remaining, Celtics guard Marcus Smart blocked Raptors forward Norman Powell on a game-tying layup attempt. NBA on TNT @NBAonTNTBLOCKED BY SMART 🚫 https://t.co/uXbc9JLD5PToronto had a chance to tie the game after the Celtics’ possession ended with Jayson Tatum—who led all players with 29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists—making one of two free throws.However, rookie Grant Williams executed a perfect defensive switch and altered Fred VanVleet’s air-balled three-point attempt.Boston grabbed the rebound, Kemba Walker hit two free throws and Boston moved onto its third Eastern Conference Finals in four seasons with the victory.Notable PerformancesCeltics F Jayson Tatum: 29 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assistsCeltics G Jaylen Brown: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 stealsCeltics G Marcus Smart: 16 points, 6 assists, 3 stealsRaptors G Fred VanVleet: 20 points, 6 assists, 3 reboundsRaptors G Kyle Lowry: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assistsRaptors F Pascal Siakam: 13 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assistsSmart’s Block Saves CelticsOn a night characterized by defense and one that closely resembled Eastern Conference playoff games from 20 years ago, a block proved to be the game’s turning point.It started with a showdown between a hard-charging Powell and Smart, the only man between the Raptor and the bucket. The worst-case scenario was an and-1 hoop and the eradication of the Celtics’ lead, and a regular layup or dunk sans a foul would tie the game.Neither happened as Smart beat Powell in a meeting at the rim.It’s important to note just how key Smart’s block was in the context of the game’s prior four minutes, which appeared to foreshadow a complete Celtic collapse.The C’s led 88-78 with under five minutes remaining after Tatum hit the second of two free throws, and a Celtics win seemed inevitable.That certainty became awfully tenuous, though, as the Raps clawed back with some clutch points from Siakam, Powell and Kyle Lowry. A pair of Kyle Lowry free throws made the score 89-87 as Boston could get absolutely nothing going on offense.Tatum went for two on the other end and couldn’t connect. Siakam grabbed the rebound and quickly found Powell up court.Powell, who was a key contributor off the bench with 11 points, then had the unfortunate luck of facing down one of the league’s best defenders, who made an unbelievable play, leading to these responses on NBA Twitter:Rob Perez @WorldWideWobif you see Marcus Smart defending anywhere near the rim: dribble, i cannot stress this enough, the other way.CelticsBlog @celticsblogI would run through countless walls for Marcus SmartCharlotte Wilder @TheWilderThingsI’d trust Marcus Smart with my passwords because he can defend anythingKeith Smith @KeithSmithNBAMarcus Smart would have been a tremendous defensive back in football. Look at the back pedal and hip swivel to make the play? https://t.co/0vyxqfrXSmKemba Walker had a take on the stuff postgame:Jay King @ByJayKingKemba Walker starts laughing when asked about Marcus Smart’s block: “That block was so special. It was unreal.”And Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said after the game, per boston.com, that he thought the top two plays were Smart’s block and Tatum’s board (more on that later).Smart’s play capped an excellent series performance, as StatMuse noted:StatMuse @statmuseMarcus Smart in the Raptors series:

15.7 PPG
6.0 RPG
5.1 APG
24-61 3P (leads team)
+64 +/- (leads team) https://t.co/JPAl5bXsRRThe ex-Oklahoma State star was clearly pleased postgame:marcus smart @smart_MS3THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH!
THE KING OF THE NORTH! https://t.co/zgz4Ptjip1Thanks largely to the block, the C’s will now look to make their first NBA Finals in 10 years.Raps Have No Answer for Tatum, Who Delivers Final Blow Offensive rebounds are rarely featured in highlight packages unless it’s followed by an Earth-shattering dunk, but one of the biggest plays of Game 7—and the entire postseason—featured one.Boston had work to do after the Smart block with under a minute left.On the other end, Walker somehow snuck through the Raps defense and found rookie Grant Williams underneath the hoop. Kyle Lowry fouled Williams, sending the ex-Tennessee star to the line for two.Williams didn’t connect on either shot, however, and it seemed as though the Raps would grab the rebound and have a chance to tie or go up one with a half-minute left.But Tatum launched his body with all five Raptors in his vicinity and grabbed the ball midair. He got fouled in the process and went to the line himself.Tatum only hit one of two, but that changed the course of the Raps’ next possession. Toronto needed three to tie now, and VanVleet could not connect when the Celtics’ defense came through. And that was all.Tatum did pretty much everything right on Friday en route to his excellent statistical showing. He didn’t shoot well from the field (9-of-23) but hit four of his eight three-pointers, helping the Celtics keep their edge. Tatum played 44 minutes but committed only three turnovers and never found himself in foul trouble.And he won the battle of All-Star power forwards with Pascal Siakam, who had a quiet offensive night with just 13 points thanks in part to a stingy team defense that Tatum played a big part in producing.Before the rebound, the Raps had trouble with Tatum, who excelled in mid-range:Boston Celtics @celticson the board #BLEEDGREEN https://t.co/pfsZvwnuRzBoston Celtics @celtics👀 https://t.co/v12KTVZILEWhen he wasn’t scoring, he was helping draw in defenses and setting up his teammates, like passes preceding Smart and Semi Ojeleye threes and a Daniel Theis two:Boston Celtics @celticsand again

#BleedGreen https://t.co/WvxP1zaC6JBoston Celtics @celticsSEMI 👌🏾 https://t.co/mZbAHz5zzcBoston Celtics @celticsTO THE HOOP https://t.co/MfYxBv5NbcTatum’s offensive versatility shined as he scored from everywhere, getting out on the fast break and hitting threes: Boston Celtics @celticsthis on repeat please 🙏 https://t.co/HcNNyhcyADBoston Celtics @celtics𝒔𝒑𝒍𝒂𝒔𝒉 https://t.co/RxdDHB55epIn the end, though, it was an offensive rebound at the most critical moment that proved to be the penultimate step in sealing the Raps’ fate, with Rohan Nadkarni of Sports Illustrated calling it an “incredible winning play” and that Tatum had no business getting the board.It’s winning time for the C’s right now as they look to continue their march toward the NBA Finals.What’s Next?The Celtics will now battle the Miami Heat, who have gone 8-1 in the playoffs and took down the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.The C’s beat the Heat in two of their three regular-season matchups.Boston took two prior to the league’s March 11 suspension of play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Heat won 112-106 on Aug. 4 during the seeding-game portion of the schedule.
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