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Must Cs: Jayson Tatum overcomes Kawhi Leonard in iconic performance

Los Angeles Clippers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Celtics earned their most iconic win of the season over the Clippers, capping over one month of playing games every other day — or back-to-back. This double-overtime win took them to 15-8 over that stretch after starting 4-6. With injuries to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward throughout that span it backed their depth and versatility.

Brown missed another game with his ailing ankles and calf, so Smart started and dropped 31 points on LA. While Lou Williams and Landry Shamet got singled out by Tatum and others on the wing, Paul George went down and the Clippers couldn’t guard across the Celtics’ second starting wing lineup. Tatum and Smart broke it down initially, then Hayward closed with a three late in double overtime.

Here’s how the Celtics reacted after.

Brad Stevens: “If you want to be a good team, you’ve got to beat good teams.”

Stevens praised the late minutes Grant Williams gave the Celtics in the overtime periods after Daniel Theis fouled out. He also gave props to Jayson Tatum’s willingness to battle with Kawhi Leonard. The win, though, is just one step in the right direction toward consistently competing with the NBA’s best. As he said, to win the title, you have to win these games four times in two weeks.

Marcus Smart: “We feel it every time we play, even when we’re down we feel like we still have a chance.”

Smart emphasized excellent contributing performances by Gordon Hayward, Semi Ojeleye and Williams while reacting to the Kevin Garnett jersey retirement. The announcement surprised Smart, who compared his role to KG’s. Smart scored 31 points on 10-for-20 shooting.

Kemba Walker: “(Tatum) was incredible. He made every right play ... he was the best guy on the court tonight.”

Walker evaluated Tatum’s iconic performance, which he took a back seat to comfortably. Then he hopped on the ball to shake Landry Shamet off with a crossover into the paint and splash a three to break a 127-127 tie. That shot played a critical role in Boston’s double-overtime win, which he largely attributed to Tatum making smart plays on the ball.

Jayson Tatum: “That was an extremely fun game to play in.”

Tatum scored 39 points on 14-for-23 shooting, the best Walker had ever seen from him. He discussed the amount of film he’s watched on Kawhi Leonard over the years, that helped him close out on his shots and hold him to 10-for-27 shooting. His two shots at the rim late in overtime helped force the second one. “I try to stay calm out there.”

As a bonus — Doc Rivers: “When a NBA player says ‘it’s close.’”

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