Tatum scored 50 points for the second straight game in this building, with six rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes. It was a spectacular performance that was enough to defeat his former teammate Irving, as well as former Brooklyn MVPs Kevin Durant and James Harden, to bring the Celtics back to this series.
“This is just one of those nights,” Tatum said. “Try to protect the field at home, try to win at all costs.
“Sometimes nights like these are necessary. “
Given that Tatum has scored at least 50 points four times in two months after never doing so in his four-year NBA career, he can perhaps say with a straight face that it was ” that one of those nights ”and believe it.
But few players can say they can take on Harden and Durant and win. That’s exactly what Tatum did, including the shot that earned him 50 points, a jumper over Durant with 41.8 seconds left that gave Boston a seven-point lead and almost ensured the Celtics would get on. would find in this series.
“Just play,” said Tatum, who before Friday night had scored a total of 31 points in the first two games – the Celtics’ two losses – and left Game 2 in the third quarter after Durant accidentally pulled it off. stung in the eyes. “Obviously I know I was there, but I was just trying to see where the help was, someone was coming, find an open man.” In these situations, play the right game. ”
While the post-game attention focused on Tatum’s performance, before the game it was all on Irving, who was making his first Boston appearance with fans in this building since leaving the Celtics in free agency there. two years ago. He made his first appearance on the pitch with just over eight minutes to go before Friday night’s tip and immediately received a great chorus of boos from the few thousand fans in attendance as part of the capacity of 25. % here at TD Garden. , the one that will be lifted before match 4 on Sunday.
“Yeah, we’re expecting a bigger crowd on Sunday,” Irving said. “Happy it was a good start to see what this environment will be like and I’m just looking forward to the challenge. “
As those boos died down quickly, Irving was booed again during player introductions, when his name was called penultimate, before Durant, and after Harden.
The same thing happened every time he touched the ball during the game, with raucous cheers after each missed shot from Irving.
“I mean, it’s basketball,” Irving said. “I have been in a few environments in my life. So like I said, as long as that’s strictly the nature of basketball, it’s nothing more. I’m cool with it. I’m going to get ready with the team tomorrow, then get ready for Sunday, but I want to keep it simple in basketball. “
Irving has had a fabulous season for Brooklyn, becoming one of seven players to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from 3 points and 90% from the foul line for a full season. But he missed a lot of games in Game 3, finishing with 16 points on a 6v17 shot. After going 1 for 5 from the field and scoring just two points in the first half – hitting a jumper pull -up midway through second quarter on rookie Payton Pritchard – Irving slowly got into the game in the second half, with his 3 points with 7:35 left in the fourth, cutting Boston’s lead at 105-97 .
But he’s found himself on the wrong side of several defensive line clashes, including against Tatum, much to the delight of hometown fans, as anyone not named Durant or Harden has done next to nothing for Brooklyn. These two combined for 80 points; add Irving’s 16 points and the rest of the Nets combined to score 23 on an 8-for-25 shot.
“It was huge,” Celtics goalie Marcus Smart said of the limitation on Brooklyn’s supporting cast. “These guys hurt us especially in Game 2. Joe [Harris] went off, I think, hit seven 3s in game 2, and they fed on that. So, so that we could get down and keep them steady and not let them hurt us and these guys, that was important to us. And for our guys to come in and do exactly what these guys did to us in Game 2, and that helps, at both ends of the pitch, that’s exactly what we need and we have to keep going. “
The Boston home crowd also took the opportunity to let Irving know how he felt about him during a few stops in the second half. After fouling Smart on a 3 point score with 5:11 left in the third, during a review to see if the foul would be considered flagrant (it was not), the crowd entered. in a long song of “F– – you, Kyrie.” “
Then when Smart and Blake Griffin collided halfway through fourth and Smart needed a moment to pull himself together, the crowd yelled, “Kyrie sucks! Throughout the stop.
Ultimately, however, this game boiled down to Tatum’s game.
And while Harden (41 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) and Durant (39 points and nine rebounds) were generally formidable, Tatum tied the two former league MVPs playing for the game and shooting for shooting throughout this season. match, wishing Boston would return to this series. even as fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown watched from the sidelines after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery earlier this month.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’ve done a good job at home, but it’s a job that is going to take a lot of resilience and continue to be there to keep him and make it difficult for him as a group. who need support and be able to lock him up when we have guys who can keep him. “
Tatum also had help. Tristan Thompson had his best game as Celtic, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Smart had 23 points and six assists, dropping 8 for 11 from the field, 5 for 8 on 3 points and making several key defensive plays. And Evan Fournier finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
The Celtics tied the Nets in 3s, shooting 16 of 39 to 16 of 38 for Brooklyn.
“They tied us at 3,” Durant said. “They hit 16 3s in this building… so they did it from the 3 point line, which is going to keep any team in the game, and we have to do a better job of competing.
“They shoot 50% from the field, we can’t afford that. Forty one [percent] from 3? We cannot allow that. And be overwhelmed? I just have to be better. “
Brooklyn will have the chance to be better on Sunday night and, with it, to regain control of this series. But for one night, at least, Boston was doing better, thanks to Tatum surpassing the Brooklyn constellation of stars.
“He’s been so advanced for 23 years,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I said the word ‘special’. I don’t say that very often, obviously he just has a unique ability to score the ball, to squeeze through the seams, to find angles to score, but also he has the vision to make every good read.
“He was great tonight.