Top 15 Moments from the 2021-22 Season
After taking a month to digest the energy-shifting Celtics season that we just witnessed, it’s time for us to look back at some of the most noteworthy moments from their epic Finals run.
Not wanting to leave anything out from this memorable season in franchise history, we put together a list of our 15 favorite moments, which have been compiled in chronological order below.
Oct. 24, 2021 – Udoka Earns First Win as Head Coach
After dribbling out the clock in a 107-97 win over the Houston Rockets on Oct. 24, Celtics wing Aaron Nesmith nonchalantly flipped the ball over his shoulder and let it bounce toward center court. But that ball wasn’t about to be left behind in Houston. Not on Timelord’s watch.
Rob Williams sauntered over from the bench toward the Rockets’ logo, eyes locked on the rolling rock as it found the hands of Grant Williams. Rob clapped his hands and called for the ball, which Grant delivered, and then carried it over to the scorer’s table where he presented it to Ime Udoka as a memento from Udoka's first win as an NBA head coach.
Smiling ear-to-ear, Udoka hung onto the ball tightly as Grant Williams came flying in for a chest bump. Jayson Tatum strolled by, congratulating his coach with a handshake, while Udoka’s assistant coaches patted him on the back and shoulder.
When Udoka got back to the visitor’s locker room, the rest of the team was waiting for him with full cups and water bottles, ready to strike. Moments later, he was surrounded by his whooping and hollering Celtics family, who proceeded to drench him from head to toe, as they celebrated his first win of many.
Win number 1 for Coach U pic.twitter.com/qJBMmuHBbd— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 25, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021 – C’s Log Highest-Scoring Output on the Road in 39 Years
Boston’s defense delivered many masterpieces throughout the season, but on Dec. 4 in Portland, it was the offense that stepped up in historic fashion. The Celtics made 14 of their first 15 field-goal attempts, setting the tone for a 145-117 rout of the Trail Blazers, which marked their highest-scoring output on the road in 39 years.
The Celtics scored all of those points despite being without second-leading scorer Jaylen Brown. Dennis Schroder and Jayson Tatum were responsible for the bulk of the scoring, delivering 31 points apiece. Payton Pritchard stepped up with 19 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, in his hometown of Portland.
The most amazing part of the performance is that it occurred on the second night of a back-to-back, just 24 hours after scoring 130 points against the Utah Jazz. It marked the first time in 31 years that Boston scored 130-plus points in consecutive games.
Dec. 22, 2021 – Joe Johnson Returns After 20 Years
The Boston Celtics had several players in the league’s Health and Safety Protocols toward the end of December, which forced them to sign a handful of free agents to 10-day contracts. The most surprising acquisition was that of 40-year-old veteran Joe Johnson, who hadn’t played in an NBA game since 2018.
Johnson’s acquisition also led to perhaps the most surreal moment of the season, given his history with the Celtics. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard was drafted by Boston in 2001 and appeared in 48 games the following season before being traded to the Phoenix Suns. When the seven-time All-Star checked in to a standing ovation late in the fourth quarter of Boston’s Dec. 22 matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it marked by far the longest period of time between individual appearances with an organization in NBA history. And he sure made the most of it.
The man known as “Iso Joe” got his hands on the ball with about 30 seconds remaining and delivered one of his trademark isolation jumpers from 18 feet out, giving the Celtics a 111-98 lead. The crowd went crazy and the Celtics bench, which included many young players who grew up idolizing Johnson, could hardly contain its collective excitement.
It would be Johnson’s only appearance of the season, but it was certainly one that he and Celtics fans cherished.
ISO JOE!!! pic.twitter.com/XaAQQmYk8I— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 23, 2021
Dec. 31, 2021 – Rob Williams Logs Historic Triple-Double vs. Suns
When asked to pinpoint the moment that turned the season around for the Celtics, head coach Ime Udoka often points to their New Year’s Eve blowout win over the Phoenix Suns. The star of that game was Robert Williams, who delivered a triple-double – the first of his career – that was unlike any in NBA history.
The fourth-year center logged 10 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, five blocks, and two steals while shooting 5-for-5 from the field, making him the first player in league history to record a five-block triple-double without missing a shot. He also became the first Celtics player to log a five-block triple-double, period.
Williams’ well-rounded performance was key in guiding the Celtics to a 123-108 victory over a Phoenix Suns team that had entered the day tied with Golden State for the best record in the NBA (27-7). It allowed Boston to end a tough 2021 calendar year on a high note, while setting the tone for what would be a stellar start to 2022.
Jan. 3, 2022 – Brown Becomes 7th Boston Player to Score 50
Jaylen Brown joined an elite list of Celtics players on Jan. 3, as he became the seventh individual in franchise history to reach the half-century mark in the scoring department with a 50-point performance against the Orlando Magic.
The sixth-year wing shot 19-of-29 from the field, 5-of-10 from 3-point range, and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, while helping to lead Boston to a 116-111 come-from-behind win at TD Garden. Nearly half of his scoring – 24 points – was produced during the fourth quarter and overtime, as he guided the Celtics back from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to a five-point win.
The Celtics were trailing 96-82 with 4:20 remaining in the fourth quarter before closing out the frame on an 18-4 run. Brown, who had 33 points at the start of the run, supplied nearly all of the scoring from that point forward. He notched 14 points during the last 4:07 of the fourth, including three layups during the final 100 seconds to help push the game into overtime, before lifting them to a win.
Brown joined Larry Bird, Sam Jones, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce, Jayson Tatum, and Isaiah Thomas as the only Celtics players to score 50 in a game.
Jan. 25, 2022 – Celtics Pull Off Biggest Home Win in Team History
On Jan. 25, the Celtics treated their home crowd to a blowout unlike any they had ever witnessed: a 128-75 win inside TD Garden, which marked the largest margin of victory at home in the franchise’s 75 years of existence.
The 53-point thrashing was the second-largest win in franchise history, falling three points shy of the 56-point victory it produced on Dec. 8, 2018, in Chicago, which came in the form of a 133-77 win over the Bulls.
However, the C’s had never produced such a beatdown in front of their own fans. Prior to that night, they had churned out only one 50-point blowout in 3,128 home games, which was a 153-102 win over the Philadelphia Warriors on March 7, 1962.
Boston was locked in right from the start, as it got off to a 16-4 lead out of the gates, which turned into a 38-13 advantage by the end of the first quarter. The Jays led the scoring charge, as Jayson Tatum dropped in a game-high 36 points, while Jaylen Brown logged 30. Meanwhile, not a single Sacramento player reached double-figures in the scoring department, as the Celtics completed one of their most well-rounded victories on both sides of the ball in team history.
Mid-February 2022 – Tatum Hangs with Celtics Legends at All-Star Weekend
For Jayson Tatum, 2022 All-Star Weekend in Cleveland was less about the game itself and more about the social experience.
It was a special weekend to be a part of, as the NBA celebrated its 75th anniversary with many legends in attendance. Tatum soaked it all in and took advantage of every opportunity he could to link up with players from the past.
The three-time All-Star had several run-ins with players whom he grew up idolizing, such as Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade. He also had an iconic photo op with a group of Celtics Legends, which included Kevin Garnett, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Paul Pierce with Tatum posing right in the middle.
There was also an incredible 25-minute halftime ceremony in the middle of the All-Star Game, during which the league honored the 75 greatest players in history. At the end of the ceremony, 46 of the 61 living members of the 75th Anniversary Team were standing together at midcourt as Tatum, his teammates, and an arena full of basketball lovers showered the legends with roaring applause.
Said Tatum of the moment, “It was a dream come true to see all those people.”
February–March/April 2022 – Udoka Becomes C’s 2nd Back-to-Back COTM Winner
Ime Udoka made history in mid-April, becoming the second coach in franchise history to win multiple Coach of the Month awards in the same season, and also the second to do so in back-to-back months.
Udoka earned his first COTM honor following a 9-2 February – just his fourth regular-season month on the job – which made him the first rookie Celtics head coach to receive such recognition. February was a month of defensive dominance for the Celtics, who ranked near the top of the NBA in most categories on that end of the floor. They posted the best defensive rating in the league (101.4), surrendered the fewest number of field goals per game (36.5), allowed the lowest shooting percentage both from the field (40.3 percent) and from 3-point range (31.9 percent), allowed the fewest points per game (100.7), and blocked the most shots per game (6.9).
Udoka re-opened the hardware case a month and a half later after compiling a 15-4 record for games played in March and the first half of April. During this span, it was all about offense for Boston, which posted a league-best offensive rating of 123.4. From March 1 to the end of the regular season, the Celtics ranked second in the East in points per game (120.4), assists per game (28.2), and field-goal percentage (50.4 percent), while also logging the East’s third-best clip from 3-point range (39.6 percent). In terms of advanced shooting stats, the C’s ranked first in the league in both effective field goal percentage (59.2 percent) and true shooting percentage (62.4 percent).
Udoka joined Doc Rivers as the only Celtics coaches to earn multiple COTM recognitions in the same season. Rivers also won the award twice in a row to close out the 2007-08 regular season before embarking on Boston’s most recent championship run.
March 13, 2022 – KG Raises No. 5 to the Rafters
Kevin Garnett’s jersey retirement ceremony was the most anticipated event of the season, and it lived up to the hype in every way imaginable.
The Big Ticket arrived for his big day early in the afternoon and went straight into the Celtics’ locker room, where, in typical KG fashion, he hyped up the current roster ahead of a 3:30 p.m. matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. Throughout the game, a variety of tributes were played on the jumbotron for Garnett, which included highlight reels, blooper reels, and congratulatory messages from former teammates and legends from around the league.
Many of Garnett’s former teammates were also in attendance and joined him on the court after the game for a 50-minute ceremony. One of those players was Hall-of-Famer Ray Allen, with whom Garnett had a strained relationship over the previous decade. But KG used this platform as an opportunity to bury their rift in the most wholesome fashion.
“I want to say something: it’s good to see Ray Allen in here,” he said looking over at Allen, who sat on the court in the first of three rows of Garnett's friends and family members. “It’s good to see you, Ray.”
Overcome with emotion, Allen stood up, walked over to Garnett, and embraced him for the first time since their last season as teammates in 2012. Paul Pierce then joined in to form a group hug, reuniting the New Big 3 at long last in front of a standing ovation from the 19,000-plus fans in attendance.
The Big Three back together pic.twitter.com/yRH6foaAdX— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 13, 2022
The ceremony ended with Garnett and his two daughters raising his No. 5 jersey patch up to the rafters, where it will rest eternally among the numbers of other past legends.
March 2022 – Tatum Wins Three Player of the Week Awards in March
Jayson Tatum made franchise history on March 28, as he became the first Celtics player to win back-to-back Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards. He also became just the second player in NBA history to win the award three times in the same month, joining LeBron James, who accomplished the feat in January of 2012.
JT led the Eastern Conference in scoring during March, posting an average of 32.8 points per game while shooting 53.8 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from 3-point range, and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line. It marked the fifth-highest scoring average in a single month for a Celtics player and the highest March average in team history.
The highlight of Tatum’s month was a season-high 54-point effort against the Brooklyn Nets on March 6. He then followed that up with a 44-point performance against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 9, which allowed him to tie Kevin McHale’s franchise record for most points in a two-game span with 98.
Tatum scored 30-plus points in nine out of the 13 games that he played in March, including each of the first five, which set the tone for the greatest month of his career.
April 17, 2022 – Tatum’s Historic Game-Winning Buzzer-Beater
Jayson Tatum delivered the first playoff game-winning buzzer-beater at home in Boston Celtics history on April 17, when he banked in a driving, spinning layup to beat the Brooklyn Nets, 115-114, in Game 1 of the first round at TD Garden.
The Celtics were down by one point with 15 seconds remaining when they forced Kevin Durant into a missed 3-point shot, which Al Horford corralled off the rim to give the Celtics one last chance. Rather than using his last timeout to set up a final play, Ime Udoka placed his faith in his players to make the right decision on the fly, and they trusted his confidence in them.
“You’ve got to give credit to Ime for trusting us in that situation with one timeout to just go,” said Marcus Smart, who delivered 20 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals. “That’s a big confidence builder for us. The coach trusted us to go out there and make a play and be basketball players.”
Smart was trusted to make the biggest play of the season, and he did. After scrambling up-court, Jaylen Brown drove baseline and kicked it out to Smart on the left wing. Smart pump-faked two Nets defenders out of the way to get a clear view of the basket, but rather than shoot the ball, he drove and dished to a cutting Tatum, who caught the rock in the middle of the paint, spun around Kyrie Irving, and dropped it into the cup.
JAYSON TATUM FOR THE WIN!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/WUr4UsaURk— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 17, 2022
“I think we all thought Smart was going to shoot it,” said Tatum, who finished with team highs of 31 points and eight assists. “Last-second shot, just crash the glass. If it doesn’t go in, try to make a play. But when he took that dribble, we just kind of made eye contact and he made a great pass. I just had to make the layup.”
April 18, 2022 – Smart Becomes First Guard DPOY in 26 Years
When Marcus Smart entered the Auerbach Center gym on April 18, his teammates were waiting for him with a surprise gift – a gift that hadn’t been received by an NBA guard in nearly three decades: the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
Smart became the first perimeter player to earn the recognition since Gary Payton in 1995-96 and fittingly, the Hall-of-Fame point guard and former Celtic was on hand to present the trophy.
As soon as Payton announced the reason for his presence, Smart was engulfed by his water cup-welding teammates and doused in a celebratory shower – an appropriate way to end such a long drought.
Over eight seasons, Smart has put a lifetime of effort into his play on the defensive end. He guards the best perimeter scorers on a regular basis and consistently finds ways to reduce their effectiveness. He’s constantly hustling, diving for loose balls, deflecting passes, taking charges, fighting through screens – doing all the dirty work and little things that contribute to winning.
The NBA hadn’t rewarded a player of his type in many years, largely because perimeter defenders don’t typically stack up with interior defenders from a statistical standpoint, such as in the rebounding and shot-blocking categories.
“It’s understandable why it was such a big man award,” reflected Smart, the second DPOY in Celtics history along with Kevin Garnett in 2007-08. “They do so much in helping their team on that end. We give so much credit to the big men. But those guards, they’ve been working, we’re the front line; you have to get past us first, and that’s how us guards feel.
"To be able to be named the Defensive Player of the Year and be the first guard since Gary Payton in 1996 to win this, it just shows that it can be done. The way the game is changing, the guards have been more recognized for their ability to do certain things we shouldn’t be able to do at our size, and this award and me winning it opens the path for guards in the future.”
May 15, 2022 – Williams’ Record-Setting Game 7 Lifts C’s into ECF
On the five-year anniversary of Kelly Olynyk’s Round 2, Game 7 heroics against the Washington Wizards, another unexpected hero stepped up for the Boston Celtics in a do-or-die series finale.
With Boston’s season on the line, Grant Williams delivered the game of his life with a game-high 27-point performance, which vaulted the Celtics past the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks for a 109-81 Game 7 win, setting them up for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Miami Heat. Milwaukee dared Williams to shoot the ball all afternoon following his combined 0-for-3 effort from 3-point range in Games 5 and 6. And the third-year forward made them pay, as he tied an NBA Game 7 record with seven makes from beyond the arc, while also breaking Steph Curry’s Game 7 record for long-distance attempts with 18.
GRANT AGAIN pic.twitter.com/sQWj9XIc60— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 15, 2022
Head coach Ime Udoka said that he spoke with Grant early on about Milwaukee’s loose coverage. “I told him, ‘Let him fly. They're disrespecting you more tonight than earlier in the series.’”
So he let it fly more than any other player on the roster. With 22 field-goal attempts, he took six more shots than Jaylen Brown and eight more than Jayson Tatum. He also attempted twice as many 3-pointers as any other teammate, and his seven 3-point makes nearly doubled the team total for the Bucks, who shot just 4-of-33 from long-distance.
May 24, 2022 – Tatum Earns All-NBA First Team Nod
Jayson Tatum added to his case as a top five NBA talent on May 24, when he earned the highest All-NBA recognition as a First Team selection. The 24 year-old forward was voted to the squad along with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, and back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic, marking his second All-NBA nod and first selection to the First Team.
It was the best statistical season of Tatum’s five-year career, as he posted career-high marks of 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. He tallied a career-best 29 games of at least 30 points, good for the fifth most in the NBA this season. He was one of four players throughout the league to register multiple 50-point games, marking the second straight season in which he has accomplished that feat.
Tatum also played an integral role in helping Boston pull off its remarkable mid-season turnaround, as he averaged 30.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game after the All-Star break.
May 29, 2022 – Tatum Wins Inaugural Larry Bird ECF MVP, Leads C’s into Finals
For the inaugural presentation of the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP award, it was only right to be given to a Celtic Legend in the making.
On May 29, Jayson Tatum brought his Celtics on the road for a do-or-die Game 7 matchup in Miami, and with 26 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal, helped to guide them into the NBA Finals with a 100-96 win.
The Celtics took home their first ECF trophy since 2010, and their 24-year-old superstar got to take home some extra hardware for his remarkable efforts after averaging 25.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.6 assists throughout the seven-game series.
trophies pic.twitter.com/bsEpFyftlQ— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 30, 2022
“It's an honor,” Tatum said after the game while sitting at a podium with his new trophy by his side. “It still doesn't even seem real right now. I'm just extremely happy and grateful for all of this. Regardless of how long I've been in the league, I'm not too far removed from when I was in high school and when I was dreaming about moments like this.”