The Boston Celtics pulled out a thrilling 116-115 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers late last night, bumping themselves back up to the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference in the process. It was a back-and-forth affair that came down to the wire, with Jayson Tatum hitting a sidestep three pointer late in the fourth that ended up being the game winning shot. Tatum continued his recent hot streak with 32 more points, while Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker both chipped in 20+ points themselves.
The Celtics initially struggled out of the gate, and allowed Portland to build up a nine point lead pretty early on. Despite scoring 30 points in the quarter, the Celtics still trailed by 8 heading into the second. Midway through the second, the Celtics defensive intensity really ramped up, and allowed them to go on a run to tie up the game and briefly take the lead. They slipped up late in the quarter and allowed Portland to go on a run of their own to retake the lead, and ended up going into the half down by 3.
While he struggled to fully assert himself in the first half, Tatum erupted in the third to swing the game in Boston’s favor. Tatum scored 17 points in the third, and helped turn a three point deficit into a five point lead by the end of the quarter. Portland wasn’t going to go down easily, and Damian Lillard eventually found his shot in the fourth quarter to help Portland hang around in the game.
Lillard willed Portland back into the game, and tied up the score at 109 late in the fourth, and after Robert Williams converted a layup for Boston, CJ McCollum would give Portland the lead back with a three on the other end. Tatum would get to the line on the other end before hitting his huge three pointer we mentioned above. Norman Powell would hit a deep three right off the ensuing inbound, but Marcus Smart would miss his ensuing two free throws, and then basically trapped Lillard in his own half to ensure Portland wouldn’t get a good final look.
This was another big win for the Celtics against playoff competition. Even with the Trail Blazers recent struggles, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can’t be taken lightly, and the Celtics defensive efforts didn’t allow them to get into any sort of rhythm. Portland’s guard duo both struggled through inefficient nights, and Lillard’s fourth quarter performance really saved his statline. Marcus Smart played a huge role in slowing them down, particularly Lillard, as he always seemed to get a solid contest up on Lillard’s shots. It was the type of defensive performance that had become a staple of the previous Celtics teams, and it’s great to see the defensive energy picking up in recent games.
The Celtics offensively seem to be figuring things out as well. Tatum in particular really seems to be finding his stride at the perfect time, as he’s scoring bundles of points while maintaining his efficiency. He’s settling less for his difficult midrange and three point shots, and has been driving the hoop more in recent contests, which is a great sign. The playmaking has also been improved throughout the team, with Walker and Smart both picking up seven assists to lead the team. The bench scoring (10 points) wasn’t nearly enough, but those problems should be solved if Evan Fournier can ever find his way back on the court.
All in all, this was on the Celtics best wins on the season that didn’t involve a huge comeback, and saw both teams trading blow for blow the entire way through. Boston now has a chance to go a perfect 3-0 on their mini west coast road trip with another 10 PM EST tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are absolutely depleted with injuries right now, but shouldn’t be taken lightly. They have a solid cast of ensemble players, led by the recently bought out Andre Drummond and Dennis Schroder, who provide serious threats to the Celtics chances of pulling out a victory. The Celtics have more talent available however, and will look to pull out a victory over their longtime rivals.
Click on the images below to shop for new Celtics gear!