BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics are alive in their playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets. Boston shook off a cold start and took Game 3 on Friday night, 125-119, on a playoff career-high 50 points from Jayson Tatum to make it a 2-1 series.
It was Tatum’s second 50-point game in the last 10 days, after he also dropped 50 in Boston’s play-in win over the Washington Wizards last week. The Nets had no answer for him for much of the game Friday night, as Tatum scored hit 16 of his 30 shots, including a huge pullup over Kevin Durant in the final minute to help seal the win. Tatum made five of his 11 threes and took 15 free throws, making 13 of them, on the night.READ MORE: Stevens Discusses Celtics' Crowded Frontcourt, How Al Horford Can Help Robert Williams
“Just one of those nights,” Tatum said after his performance. “Trying to protect home court and get a win at all costs. Sometimes, nights like these are needed.”
At 23, Tatum is the third-youngest player to score 50 points in a playoff game in NBA history. He filled out his stat sheet with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals.
Boston also got huge games out of Marcus Smart, who scored 23 and dished out six assists, and big man Tristan Thompson, who muscled his way to 19 points and 13 rebounds. Nine of Thompson’s rebounds came off the offensive glass.
“We had a lot of guys step up, around Jayson being special,” head coach Brad Stevens said after the win.
“He was super tonight,” Stevens added of Tatum. “He has been like that a lot this year. He’s special.”READ MORE: Brad Stevens Still Chatting With Danny Ainge; Checking In With Celtics' Stars About Moves
Going back to the regular season, Tatum had four games with 50 or more points this season.
Kyrie Irving, playing in front of Celtics fans for the first time since his departure for Brooklyn nearly two years ago, struggled mightily, finishing 6-for-17 from the floor for 16 points. He was met with boos from the Boston crowd whenever he touched the ball.
The Celtics were cold to start the game and fell behind 19-4 early in the first quarter. But Boston started hitting shots and closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run, taking a 33-32 lead heading into the second thanks to 13 points from Tatum and 11 points from Smart in the opening frame. That run ballooned to 57-38 for the Celtics, who took a 61-57 lead into halftime.
Brooklyn did make things interesting in the third, taking a 73-72 lead after an 11-2 run, capped off by a midrange make by Irving. But Smart answered with back-to-back threes for Boston; one with the shot clock winding down and one from a few feet behind the line. He was fouled by Irving on the second of those two threes, and hit the free throw to put the Celtics up 79-75. Another three by Smart a few minutes later gave Boston an 84-77 advantage.
Brooklyn hung around in the fourth thanks to James Harden, who finished with 41 on the night, and 39 points from Durant. But Tatum continued to attack the Brooklyn defense — and Irving — and scored 10 points in the final frame, including that pullup over Durant with 40.8 seconds left.
Game 4 of the series is set for Sunday night in Boston. TD Garden will have a near capacity crowd for that one, with Massachusetts lifting COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday.MORE NEWS: Brad Stevens: Kemba Trade Was Difficult To Make, But The Right Move For Big Picture Of Celtics
“It’s gonna be fun,” Tatum said of having all those fans back on Sunday.