With the Wizards holding a halftime lead, Jayson Tatum exploded in the third quarter for 23 of his 50 points to help the Celtics open a lead against Washington they would never give up. In the end, the Celtics came away with a 118-100 win.
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Now Boston will look to Brooklyn as Washington quickly needs to turn its attention to what Indiana can bring to the table following its resounding victory over the Charlotte Hornets earlier Tuesday night. We’ll know soon who will be the final team in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the Celtics need not worry about their positioning after tonight’s win.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Tatum turns off
It’s been a tough season for the Celtics with their constant stream of injuries and absences, and Tatum’s struggles are a notable part of it. He missed more than two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, and since his return he has had to use an inhaler and still has trouble breathing at times.
But while there have been some tough times and games on his part over the past few months, we’ve also seen him put in some of the best performances of his career. He had 53 against the Timberwolves, 44 against the Warriors in a showdown with Steph Curry, and of course a career-high 60 points in that epic comeback against Spurs. Now you can add Tuesday night to the list.
Simply put, Tatum was amazing. He finished with 50 points – his third 50-point game of the season – eight rebounds and four assists. His huge third quarter, in which he racked up 23 points and almost edged the Wizards (26) on his own, was a real statement and the key turning point of the game. The Celtics entered the break trailing by two, and finished the third quarter by 10. From there, they largely gave in to victory.
One of the main reasons for Tatum’s success against the Wizards is that he was keen to put his head down and get into the paint. Not only did he complete a number of easy looks on the rim, but he put the Wizards in trouble and was a perfect 17 of 17 from the free throw line for a new career high from there.
2. Celtics dominate third quarter
The first half of that game was pretty even, as the Celtics took the lead early, but the Wizards fought to regain control in the second quarter. At the break, the Wizards were leading 54-52, and it looked like we could be in for a really fun and competitive finish. The Celtics had other plans.
Tatum started the half with one and one and Walker followed with three straight three runs to put the Celtics ahead. Then it was Tatum’s turn again, he added a knight and a 3 point to force a wizard timeout. It all happened in the first 3:51 of the third quarter, and before the Wizards even knew what was going on, the Celtics had built a 69-56 lead.
This run, and the third quarter overall, was about the game. The Celtics went 12 of 23 from the field and 8 of 9 from the free throw line in the frame and outscored the Wizards 38-26. To their credit, the Wizards hung around for a while and managed to bring the deficit down to single digits a few times, but they were never able to recover.
3. Wizards have a bad night, but they’re still alive
It wasn’t a good night for wizards. Beal was there fighting, but he was clearly not 100% and had a lot of issues on both sides. He eventually got 22 points, but needed 25 shots to get it and struggled to keep Tatum on defense. Westbrook, meanwhile, had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, but shot 6 of 18 and returned it four times. Worse yet, as a team, the Wizards shot 3 of 21 from a 3-point field.
The good news for them is that they are still alive. Thanks to their incredible run towards the end of the regular season, the Wizards didn’t just make the play-in tournament, they finished eighth in the Eastern Conference and earned double elimination protection.
As a result, they have yet to be eliminated from playoff competition. They will now face the Pacers on Thursday night in the final round of the play-in tournament, with the winner of that game securing the No.8 seed in the playoffs and a first-round game with the Sixers. While the Pacers looked amazing in their destruction of the Hornets, they have all kinds of injury issues themselves and this is absolutely a game to be won for the Wizards.