Jayson Tatum delivered one of the most memorable performances in Boston Celtics’ postseason history in front of a 25-percent capacity crowd.
Tatum and the Celtics hope to produce another dynamic performance Sunday night and this time they will have a full-capacity crowd on their side when they host the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
The Nets lead the series two games to one after winning two games in front of full capacity crowds in Brooklyn. A win on Sunday would assure the Celtics of playing Game 6 at TD Garden in Boston on Thursday regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s Game 5 in Brooklyn.
Boston is back in the series thanks to Tatum’s 50-point game in Friday’s 125-119 win. The dynamic performance occurred in front of 4,789 fans. But on Sunday, restrictions for capacity due to COVID-19 will be lifted in Massachusetts, and fans will be watching the Celtics try to knot the series at two games apiece thanks to Tatum’s electrifying outing following two deflating losses in Brooklyn.
“They definitely helped,” Tatum said of even the small-but-boisterous crowd. “It was good to play in front of your home crowd and give that extra energy, and having them cheering you on, there’s nothing like it. It’s going to be that much better come Sunday.
“There’s nothing like playing at home in front of your home crowd, the family,” he added. “I’ve played a lot of games in this arena. It’s a great place to play. I’d like to say I’m most comfortable here.”
Tatum looked extremely comfortable after being bottled up by the Nets’ defense in Brooklyn, when he managed just 31 points in the two games combined. In Game 1, the Celtics saw a six-point halftime lead evaporate as they scored only 40 points in the second half. In Game 2, Boston was taken out of the game early and absorbed a 130-108 loss.
Tatum, who had posted a 50-point outing in Boston’s 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards in the play-in game, was a non-factor in the two games in Brooklyn, making just 9 of 32 shots. After getting poked in the eye by Kevin Durant in the third quarter on Tuesday, Tatum came back Friday with a huge response after the Celtics fell behind by 15 in the opening minutes.
Tatum produced the sixth 50-point game in Boston postseason history and the first since Isaiah Thomas finished with 53 in Game 2 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington. He made 16 of 30 shots, 13 of 15 free throws, five 3-pointers and handed out seven assists.
Tatum’s most dynamic stretch occurred in the third quarter when he scored 11 of his 19 points after the Nets tied the game at 75-all. Tatum had plenty of help as Marcus Smart added 23 points, Tristan Thompson dominated inside with 19 and 13 rebounds, and Evan Fournier chipped in 17 points.
The Nets lamented their lack of physicality, which allowed the Celtics to shoot 50.6 percent and hit 16 threes after they held Boston to 39.8 percent from the field in the first two games.
“I think just the combination of the extra effort and discipline,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said Saturday when asked about what bothered him from Game 3. “We had too many breakdowns that were simple. We just lacked discipline in different scenarios and maybe just didn’t make enough of the second effort, the kind of frenetic energy we had in Games 1 and 2.”
The lack of physicality occurred on a night when James Harden and Durant combined for 80 points.
Harden scored 41 points and Durant produced 39 but former Celtic Kyrie Irving was held to 16 on 6-of-17 shooting while hearing boos from Boston fans each time he touched the ball.
Unlike Tuesday, when the Nets got 25 points on seven 3-pointers from Joe Harris, they got little from outside of their Big Three on a night they shot 45.2 percent overall and handed out 16 assists after finishing with 31 in Game 2.
“I know it wasn’t full, but it was still a good atmosphere and loud and we expect it to be pretty crazy tomorrow,” Harris said. “But you still find a way to communicate with one another and make sure you’re not letting them become too much of a factor.”
–Field Level Media