Boston Celtics

Xavier Tillman seals C's win as Mazzulla shows belief in bench unit

Head coach Joe Mazzulla left the reserves on the floor for the final minutes of the nail-biter.

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The Boston Celtics extended their home win streak to 12 games, getting the best of the Sacramento Kings 101-100. In a statement move, head coach Joe Mazzulla left the starters on the bench for the final minutes despite blowing a 19-point lead, allowing the reserves to showcase their ability to close out games.

After a De'Aaron Fox 3-pointer that put the Kings up one, the Celtics marched down the court with just seconds left hoping to score a game-winner. Sam Hauser -- who had a rough night, converting on just one of his 18 attempts -- was met by Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray at the rim.

Sabonis' block was redirected to Xavier Tillman at the top of the key, who took two dribbles inside and finished with a floater a step inside of the free-throw line, leaving just 7.4 seconds on the clock.

After a timeout, Sacramento got the ball back up the court in time for an attempt to retake the lead, but good defense and great rebounding were too much for the Kings to overcome.

"[We] couldn't simulate a better environment of stress, pressure, chaos. It's a perfect environment to execute," Mazzulla said of leaving the bench unit in down the stretch. "I thought it was a perfect environment for practice."

Tillman -- who was acquired before the trade deadline in exchange for Lamar Stevens and two future second-round picks -- logged 19 minutes in Friday night's win, tallying 9 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Since the trade, the 25-year-old has appeared in 14 games, averaging 3.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in just under 14 minutes per game, giving Boston some added depth.

"It was great, getting an opportunity to do that," Tillman said when asked about Mazzulla's decision to leave the bench unit in to close out the game. "Because it was crunch time, I was really locked in -- because obviously the crowd was loud, I was zoned in, so it didn't faze me much. It was great practice though, for what we are going to go through in terms of having that mental fortitude."

Already witnessing his teammate miss a game-winning attempt, it could have been easy for Tillman to lose confidence, but he had zero doubts about his shot.

"It felt good. As soon as it left my hand, I knew it was good," Tillman told reporters following the win.

Tillman added that this was not his first game-winner -- the 2020 second-round pick notched a game-winning dunk in his college days for an unranked Michigan State team, finishing an alley-oop pass from Cassius Winston to beat No. 22 ranked Illinois.

"[The bench reaction] was sweet," Tillman said of his teammates. "We're not necessarily playing for anything anymore since we're already solidified [as the one seed], so when we are still able to be excited about that -- that was pretty cool."

The Celtics will close out their three-game homestand on Sunday night as they take on a depleted Portland Trail Blazers team.

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