Every single year, it seems like the playoffs devolves from a battle between some of the best teams in the NBA to a war of attrition. The Miami Heat, in particular, know this all too well, as they lost Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo to injuries in this postseason run alone. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics, amid stretches of shaky postseason play, have gone through the playoffs mostly unscathed.
But everything changed for the Celtics in the first possession of their Game 7 tussle against the Heat, just when they were on the precipice of becoming the first team to ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit. After only 26 seconds had elapsed in the winner-take-all Eastern Conference Finals matchup, Jayson Tatum turned his ankle on a layup attempt over Gabe Vincent, hampering the effectiveness of the Celtics' best player.
Tatum tried his best to power through what clearly was a painful injury, but as Marcus Smart acknowledged in his postgame presser following the Celtics' season-ending 103-84 defeat to the Heat, this was simply a part of the game that, heartbreakingly, they had no control over.
“Obviously, you can see he wasn't himself. He wasn't as explosive. The ankle was really killing him. He tried to fight. It just didn't go in his favor,” Smart said, per ASAP Sports. “But it's part of the game. Certain things you can't control, and getting hurt like that is nothing you can control. So it just happened at the wrong time.”
There were no guarantees either way that Marcus Smart and the Celtics would have won had Jayson Tatum remained healthy throughout Game 7. But one would think that the Celtics would have had a much easier time solving the Heat's stifling zone defense if they had Tatum playing at his best.