Celtics-Kings takeaways: Xavier Tillman the unlikely hero in C’s win

Celtics-Kings takeaways: Xavier Tillman the unlikely hero in C’s win

Celtics-Kings takeaways: Xavier Tillman the unlikely hero in C’s win originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON — The Celtics earned their 12th straight home win in thrilling fashion Friday night.

After a sluggish start, which included just three points scored in the first six minutes, the Celtics found their groove and pulled ahead by 16. They carried a 30-9 run into the early part of the second quarter, but Sacramento‘s offense woke up to cut the deficit to four points at halftime.

Boston pulled back ahead by 18 before relinquishing their lead again late in the fourth quarter. A De’Aaron Fox 3-pointer capped off a 20-1 run that gave the Kings their first lead since the opening frame.

An unlikely hero stepped up for the C’s in crunch time, however. Xavier Tillman Jr. drilled what turned out to be the game-winner with 7.4 seconds remaining, lifting Boston to a wild 101-100 win.

Payton Pritchard (21 points) and Kristaps Porzingis (20 points) paced the Celtics in scoring with Jaylen Brown (hand) and Derrick White (back) out. Fox dropped a game-high 40 for the Kings, including 20 in the second quarter.

The Celtics (61-16) will look to extend their win streak at TD Garden against the Portland Trail Blazers (20-56) on Sunday evening. First, here are three takeaways from Friday’s action.

Another big night for the bench

Like in Wednesday’s win over Oklahoma City, the Celtics’ second unit stepped up when it needed to against Sacramento.

Trade deadline addition Xavier Tillman drilled a 3-pointer to end Boston’s 0-for-6 start from beyond the arc. The shot also ended Tillman’s 0-for-10 3-point slump dating back to March 14. But that wasn’t his biggest shot of the night.

Tillman came through in the clutch, drilling the game-winner with 7.2 seconds left on the clock:

The big man ended up with nine points, five rebounds, and two assists.

Luke Kornet provided a spark with six points, five boards, and two blocks. Svi Mykhailiuk added five points, including a 3-pointer to finish the first quarter.

Payton Pritchard starred for the second unit with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting (5-10 3-PT). Altogether, the Celtics bench totaled 43 points (17-31 FG), 18 rebounds, and seven assists.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla tested his bench by keeping the group on the floor in the final minutes. That decision nearly backfired as Sacramento finished the frame on a 20-3 run.

After Tillman saved the day, Mazzulla shared what was on his mind while the reserves closed the game out.

“This is fun. This is awesome. Couldn’t simulate a better environment of stress, pressure, chaos,” he said. “It’s a perfect environment to execute. So, that’s why when those guys are in, you hold them to the same standard that you hold everybody else to. I thought they did a great job just making plays. … I thought it was a perfect environment for practice.”

The Celtics have five games left to “practice” before the playoffs.

Kristaps Porzingis stays hot

With Brown and White out, plus a modest output from Jayson Tatum (17 points, 5-15 FG), Porzingis again took over as Boston’s star.

He followed his team-leading 27-point, 12-rebound performance vs. the Thunder with a 20-point, 11-rebound showing against the Kings. Twelve of his points came in the first half along with six rebounds, two steals, and a block.

According to Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe, Porzingis became the third C’s player ever to have at least five rebounds, two steals, and a block in the first quarter in the play-by-play era. Kevin Garnett (twice) and Antoine Walker were the only other players to accomplish that feat.

Porzingis has tallied at least 20 points in his last three games. The 7-foot-3 Latvian is shooting 24-for-34 (70.6 percent) from the floor in that span.

Tough day at the office for Sam Hauser

This just wasn’t Hauser’s night. The Celtics’ sharpshooter, who entered 13-for-21 from 3-point range over his last two games, couldn’t buy a bucket on Friday.

Hauser went 0-for-7 from deep (0-8 FG) in the first half. He made his first 3 of the night to start the third quarter, but the struggles continued from that point on.

Hauser ended up 1-for-13 from deep and 1-for-18 altogether. While he helped out in other ways (seven rebounds, three assists), there’s no doubt this was a game he’d like to forget.

Fortunately for Boston, Hauser’s shooting slumps haven’t lasted long. He shot 9-for-13 from deep in Monday’s win to snap out of a brief skid in Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets. He’ll look to do the same Sunday night against Portland.

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