Just when you thought they were down for the count, the Boston Celtics got back up tonight and kept on fighting. They picked up a 125-119 victory over the Brooklyn Nets tonight, largely due to yet another 50 point outing from Jayson Tatum, cutting the series deficit in half with it now sitting at 2-1 in Brooklyn’s favor. Despite 41 from James Harden and 39 from Kevin Durant, it wasn’t enough to pick up the win over the Celtics, which now sets the stage for what should be a very interesting Game 4 at the Garden.
Things couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start for Boston. Brooklyn immediately went on a 19-4 run within the first three and a half minutes to open the first quarter, and it seemed like the Celtics were set for another long night of basketball. But then everything changed. After taking a timeout, the Celtics came out with an energy we haven’t seen all series. Tatum immediately picked up his first eight points of the game about 90 seconds later, and eventually the C’s brought the score back to 30-23. After Brooklyn called a timeout of their own, Boston went on a 10-2 run to close out the quarter, which was capitalized with Marcus Smart hitting a three to give the Celtics the lead.
With the Celtics playing to keep the lead for most of the second quarter, they were able to keep up the momentum, and built up a double digit lead at one point in the quarter. With the team rallying behind Jayson Tatum, it seemed like they were getting contributions all across the board to help them stay one step ahead of Brooklyn. Whether it be some timely timely shooting from Romeo Langford, or Tristian Thompson securing what felt like every offensive rebound, or Evan Fournier picking up the slack with Tatum on the bench, it was the way Boston needed to play in order to stay with Brooklyn in this game. Brooklyn would rely heavily on Kevin Durant and James Harden to keep them in the game, and they eventually brought the deficit back to four heading into halftime.
The third quarter wasn’t as simple. The Nets battled their way back to take a one point lead halfway through the frame, with Kyrie Irving hitting a pullup midrange shot to put Brooklyn up 73-72. From there on out, Boston would go on a 24-11 to close out the quarter and give themselves a twelve point lead heading into the fourth. Marcus Smart showed up in a huge way, hitting three huge three pointers to help Boston build their lead back up. From there on out, it was all Tatum. Tatum had 19 points in the frame, and simply could not miss a shot if he tried down the stretch. He finished the quarter with 40 points on the night, giving Boston a 12 point lead heading into the fourth.
Despite jumping out to a 16 point pretty early into the fourth quarter, this was quite a tense quarter for both parties. James Harden got hot and he got hot fast, and single handedly kept Brooklyn in the game. He would quickly score 10 before finishing the quarter with 15, and seemed to be pretty much automatic on his patented stepback jumper. The quarter was very dragged out due to both sides trading free throws on what felt like every possession, but Boston managed to keep Brooklyn at arms length for pretty much the entire quarter. Brooklyn couldn’t get past the seven point deficit until there were 20 seconds left in the game. By then though it was too late, with Tatum hitting the dagger over Kevin Durant to give himself 50 points on the night, and effectively secure Boston the victory.
This is an absolutely huge victory for the C’s. They proved tonight that despite missing Jaylen Brown, and Rob Williams for the most part after he suffered a sprained ankle early on, they can hang with the top competition in the league when they play up to their potential. Even with Kemba Walker, who had an awful game even by his low standards this season (6 PTS, 3/14 FG), the Celtics managed to overcome the adversity tonight to pick up a victory that will help extend their season for at least two more games.
Let’s start with the obvious; Jayson Tatum was absolutely spectacular tonight. He immediately helped Boston climb out of it’s early 19-4 hole, and then took this game over in the second half. He was basically unstoppable in the second half, hitting a barrage of jumpers, layups, and consistently found his way to the free throw line. This was the type of performance Boston absolutely needed from Tatum in order to just stay alive in these games, let alone win them.
Tatum couldn’t do it by himself though, and he certainly got some much needed help tonight. With Walker laboring through another horrid outing, it was Marcus Smart who stepped up carried the burden left by Kemba for most of the night. Smart finished with 23 points on the night, and his timely three pointers in the third quarter helped Boston hold onto the lead when Brooklyn was charging back into the game.
Two other notable contributors were Tristan Thompson and Evan Fournier. With Williams forced to miss most of the game again, Thompson had to step up in a big way, and boy did he ever. Thompson had arguably his best performance for the Celtics tonight, scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, nine of which were offensive. And Fournier did his job with some very timely shooting, as he finished with 17 points while playing some good defense on the other end. His ability to score when Tatum was on the bench or getting doubled was huge tonight, and it’s a big reason Boston won.
Despite the win, expectations shouldn’t be readjusted too drastically for this team. Boston needed 50 from Tatum and some really good performances from his surrounding cast to pull out a win tonight. And while Harden and Durant were fantastic for Brooklyn tonight, just about everyone else wasn’t, including Kyrie Irving, who seemed affected from receiving a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball. It took a lot for Boston to win tonight, and it may not be realistic to expect it to happen again. This team has earned our attention tonight however, and has set the stage for a very completive Game 4 that could really make this series interesting.