June 24, 2021

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Celtics hold off Nets behind Jayson Tatum’s 50 points to cut series deficit to 2-1

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It’s now a series. Or at least it has the feeling of one.

After the Brooklyn Nets dominated the first two games and appeared on their way to another easy win early in Game 3, the Boston Celtics displayed some resiliency to earn a critical 125-119 victory Friday night at the TD Garden to climb back into the series, 2-1.

Here are five takeaways from the Celtics fighting off the Nets to at least make things interesting:

There he goes again

With as big of a talent gap as there is between the Celtics and Nets, Boston needed a herculean effort from Jayson Tatum to take a game in this series and he delivered it.

Tatum was sensational, netting a playoff career-high 50 points on 16-of-30 shooting to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. It was the fourth time this season Tatum recorded at least 50 points, and he became just the sixth player in Boston franchise history to have a 50-point playoff performance. It was a much-needed showing from Tatum, too, as Brooklyn bottled up the Celtics star through the first two games of the series with Tatum a combined 9-of-32 from the floor entering Game 3.

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Tatum asserted himself from the outset, surpassing his Game 2 scoring output of nine in the first quarter alone. But Tatum went to another level in the third quarter, and the Nets had no answer for it.

Tatum scored 19 points in the frame and had a dazzling few possessions when he sank a jumper from the wing while Kyrie Irving fouled him, unleashed a wicked step-back move before drilling a 3-pointer over Nicolas Claxton and hit a fallaway jumper over James Harden.

Tatum’s aggressiveness paid off as he made 13-of-15 free throws.

Welcome back

Irving’s night began with a chorus of boos when he took the floor for pregame warm-ups, and he heard them every time he touched the ball once the game began.

Irving was a non-factor in his first time playing in Boston with fans in the stands since signing with the Nets two seasons ago. Irving never really got going in his 41 minutes, scoring 16 points on an inefficient 6-of-17 shooting.

Irving didn’t seem to have a problem with the crowd constantly on him after saying he hoped there would be no “subtle racism” from the Boston crowd.

“It’s basketball,” Irving said. “I’ve been in a few environments in my life. … If it’s nothing extra, I’m cool with it.”

Smart sidekick

Tatum didn’t have his usual running mate in Jaylen Brown, who is sidelined for the rest of the season after having surgery on torn ligaments in his wrist, but Marcus Smart filled the role admirably.

Smart contributed 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers to serve as a vital spark. Smart caught fire alongside Tatum in the third quarter as the duo combined to score 29 of Boston’s 35 points in the frame.

Smart drained all three of his 3-point attempts in the quarter, including a four-point play. Smart also provided his typical hustle plays, including drawing a charge on Irving in the fourth quarter. Smart was a key factor early on as well, helping the Celtics dig out of a 19-4 hole to start the contest.

Marcus Smart had his best game of the series with 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting.

Tone-setter

While Tatum carried the offensive load, Tristan Thompson set the tone with his play down low. The veteran wouldn’t allow the Celtics to be pushed around and dominated on the boards, as nine of his 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass. He also registered 19 points.

As Thompson won the interior battle, he also showed off some hops he rarely displayed in the regular season when he threw down a dunk off a Kemba Walker miss early in the fourth quarter. Thompson lived up to the billing of a strong playoff performer in this one.

Kemba’s woes

Walker wasn’t at 100% as he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in Game 2, and he struggled to put the ball into the basket on the parquet floor, scoring just six points on 3-of-14 shooting. Walker also didn’t hit any of the seven 3-pointers he attempted.

Walker did manage to grab eight rebounds, but the Celtics star missed several easy layups which could have helped create more separation against a Nets team that didn’t go away easily.

Follow Greg Dudek on Twitter @gdudek10.

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