Jenny Rohl/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

BOSTON — It happened again. Frighteningly so.

For the second consecutive playoff game in a row, and against the same opponent no less, Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum fell down hard along the baseline on the side of the Celtics bench. After the initial groans of the crash, every Celtic fan and NBA supporter saw their hearts race up to their throat, in anticipation of the worst — a series-deciding, possibly championship-altering injury that befell the team and the city just 11 months ago.

Within a split second after his violent descent onto the parquet floor, however, Tatum rose triumphantly to his feet, almost defiantly, as he headed to the free throw line to finish off a historic day for him — and polish off the the statement of intent his Celtics shouted loudly across the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Boston’s 114-94 bloodletting of the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series was more than just making sure the Celtics began their march toward securing championship banner No. 18 in an imperious manner, even if their professionalism would not allow many of the players to admit it publicly. Facing the team that eliminated it from last year’s playoffs one step away from reaching the NBA Finals provided the perfect tonic to guard against complacency, even if it came in without its lynchpin, Jimmy Butler, out indefinitely with a right knee sprain suffered last Wednesday.

What it didn’t guard against was an eerie moment of déjà vu, as Tatum took a hard fall along the baseline toward the end of the game as a product of a box-out-turned-undercut by the Heat’s Caleb Martin, near the identical spot on the floor where he rolled his ankle on the first play of last year’s Game 7, the fateful moment that sapped Tatum of his basketball strength and slowly sucked the life out of TD Garden as the Heat proceeded to win the game and the series. But, like the slogan emblazoned on the front of the giveaway black t-shirts for fans entering the arena, “It’s Different Here,” today’s fall was just a blip.

“Shit is going to happen. It’s probably not the last time I’m gong to get hit like that, or fouled in this series,” Tatum said about the incident, which led to Celtics players jawing at Martin and players from both teams coming chest-to-chest. “I wasn’t hurt to get hit like that. Just get up. And I knew we were in the bonus. Just go down there and knock the free throws down.”

Countering Tatum’s matter-of-factness, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla probably had the most interesting (and head-scratching?) take on a play that, for milliseconds, put the Celtics’ championship hopes up in the air.

“I was waiting to see what he was going to do, I was kind of excited about the whole situation,” Mazzulla said of the play. “I enjoyed watching it.”

More than 19,000 people also enjoyed it (after quickly sending prayers to the powers-that-be), and enjoyed Tatum’s overall play on the evening, which resulted in the 36th triple-double in Celtics playoff history and the first since Marcus Smart in Game 6 of the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto in the bubble. While his shooting left a lot to be desired, making just 7-of-18 while misfiring on seven of his eight three-point attempts, he quickly became a facilitator during the first quarter that saw Boston score the first 14 points of the game while opening up a 17-2 lead. Tatum had five assists in the opening frame, with four of those coming during that 14-point barrage to open the game. (Four of the first six shots made from the field by the Celtics came off assists from Tatum.)

As it turned out, the end-of-game incident wasn’t the only similarity from last year’s nightmare. The first play of today’s game, like last year’s Game 7, ended up with Tatum having the ball along the baseline. And once again, he drove to the basket, but, this time, he missed a dunk. No injury, and better yet, he was able to grab his own miss and pass out to Jaylen Brown for a three-pointer to open the scoring.

Surely, having the ball in that same spot, on the first possession of the game, brought back some memories to last year, even for a brief moment. Right?

“Nah, I ain’t thinking about that shit no more,” Tatum told A Lot of Sports Talk.

Well put. If he’s not thinking about it anymore, why should we?

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Tags : Boston CelticsMiami HeatNational Basketball AssociationNBA Playoffs

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