When Brad Stevens called a timeout down 19-4 early in game three, it looked like trouble in The Garden. But, a late first quarter run caught the Nets off balance, and Boston was able to quickly fight back, erasing the deficit within minutes.
In what was the most competitive game of the series so far, Jayson Tatum did what he does best: shoot that pill. Tatum’s 50 points led Boston to a victory on their home court, putting them one game behind Brooklyn in the series, 2-1.
Tatum’s 50-point showing made him the third youngest player in NBA history, behind Rick Barry and Michael Jordan, to score 50 in a playoff game. He also became the sixth Celtic to score 50 in a playoff game.
6th 50-point playoff game in Celtics history...— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) May 29, 2021
CELTICS - PLAYOFF SCORING
John Havlicek - 54 (1973
Isaiah Thomas - 53 (2017)
Ray Allen - 51 (2009)
Sam Jones - 51 (1967)
Bob Cousy - 50 (1953)
JAYSON TATUM - 50 (2021)
Boston entered game three against Brooklyn following a blowout 22-point loss in Brooklyn. The Nets came into the first game in Boston with their lineup from games one and two.
Celtics starters for Game 3:— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 29, 2021
Tatum was back in the lineup after being forced out of game two with an eye injury. Kemba Walker was reportedly not at full strength, but made the start regardless.
James Harden was unstoppable in the first six minutes. Harden hit four straight shots for 13 points. Joe Harris was the beneficiary of fast break looks and missed defensive rotations in the first, hitting his first two threes and scoring six.
Boston fell behind 19-4 after the early Harden and Harris explosion, but after a timeout, the Celtics were able to make it more of a contest. They scored eight straight points to erase what was a daunting early deficit.
The Celtics, like 28 other teams, struggled with guarding Kevin Durant early. Durant was making contested looks with ease, shooting over the top of any defender in his way. Despite the early fireworks from Brooklyn and an immediate 15-point deficit, Boston held the lead after one, 33-32.
LET'S GO JT pic.twitter.com/whHQNGWVRM— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 29, 2021
Of Boston’s 33 first quarter points, 24 came from Tatum and Marcus Smart. Smart had the hot hand, hitting 4/5 shots from the field and 2/3 from three. Smart scored 17 and 19 in games one and two respectively, and was been the leading scorer for Boston in the playoffs entering game three.
Tristan Thompson played big against the small-ball Nets. Thompson had double-digit rebounds in the previous three games, and he maintained that pace for the fourth straight game. Thompson grabbed seven offensive rebounds (eight total) in the first half and scored 12 points.
While Durant continued to fill up the basket for Brooklyn, the rest of the Nets struggled to see the ball go through the net. The Celtics were playing aggressive defense and creating open looks on offense. Boston was able to expand their lead in the second, leading 52-47 with four minutes remaining in the half.
Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 21 first-half points. After exiting game two injured, Tatum kept shooting at the center basket and appeared to have no lingering side effects from being poked in the eye in Brooklyn.
Romeo Langford played 15 first-half minutes and made an impact. Langford scored six points from two threes, played solid defense and grabbed three rebounds.
Despite having fewer assists, steals and shooting a worse percentage from three, Boston led by four at halftime, mainly on the strength of their excellent rebounding. The Celtics’ 28-19 rebound advantage was the defining stat of the first half. The energy on the glass, particularly from Thompson, was palpable.
For Brooklyn, Harden and Durant kept them alive early. Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin, Nicholas Claxton combined to shoot 4-13 from the floor.
Celtics lead 61-57 at the half— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) May 29, 2021
Tatum - 21 points
Thompson - 12 points, 7 offensive rebounds
Smart - 11 points
Celtics - 8-21 three-pointers
Celtics - 8 turnovers
Harden - 17/4/7
Durant - 17 points
Harris - 8 points
Nets - 6-16 three-pointers
Nets - 5 turnovers
Irving had a slow first half offensively, taking just five shots and making one. Irving scored two points in 20 minutes, and heard a thunderous collection of boos whenever he touched the ball.
Despite Irving’s slow start, Harden and Durant were able to keep the Nets close, which is why they had the best offensive rating in the NBA. When one of their big three struggles, the other two can carry the load.
At the start of the second half, Keith Smith reported that Robert Williams III would miss the rest of game three with a sprained ankle. Williams played six minutes and recorded no stats in game three.
Boston held their lead into the third quarter on the back of Jayson Tatum. Tatum had eight points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, getting to the line and making contested looks seem routine.
As it had been in the first two quarters, the third quarter opened up all Tatum and Thompson. Thompson provided exquisite energy for the Celtics, fueling a crowd of 5,000 rowdy fans, most notably on a fast-break dunk off a behind-the-back dime from Smart.
YIKES pic.twitter.com/kyg1I3vO85— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 29, 2021
Brooklyn took back the lead for the first time since the first quarter with six minutes remaining in the third. With 18 minutes remaining, the playoff atmosphere inside TD Garden was alive and well.
Smart hadn’t scored since the first quarter, but after the game got tight, Smart found ice in his veins. Smart hit three consecutive threes, including a four-point play, within three minutes of play. The Celtics’ most seasoned vet kept coming up big in crucial playoff minutes.
Iconic Marcus Smart moment pic.twitter.com/X6vywTzb2C— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) May 29, 2021
With 2:30 remaining in the third, Evan Fournier drilled a corner three, giving Boston an 88-77 lead, its largest of the night.
Shortly after, Tatum made a circus and-one jumper over Irving to extend that lead to 14. Another three later gave the Celtics a 15-point lead, just like the one they’d overcame early.
Tatum reached 40 points with a midrange jumper that stretched an already large lead to 17. After some quick Brooklyn buckets, a fast-paced third quarter came to an end with Boston on top, 96-84. Smart had 21 after three, Thompson had a double-double with 15 and 10 and Evan Fournier broke into double digits with 10 points.
Jayson Tatum has tallied 40 points in a playoff game for the first time in his NBA career— Celtics Stats (@celtics_stats) May 29, 2021
Harden was trying to will Brooklyn to victory as the fourth quarter began. Harden was drilling his patented stepback three, drawing fouls on jump shots and giving Celtics defenders nightmares. He finished with a team-high 41 points, with Durant scoring 39.
In a heated fourth quarter, Boston kept their lead strong despite Brooklyn’s best efforts. When the Celtics needed a bucket, they got one, and key shots from Walker and Fournier gave a boost in scoring when Tatum was seeing double teams.
Irving hit two free throws with 58 seconds remaining to put the lead at just five. However, Tatum had an answer, and that answer was the cherry on top of a historic scoring performance, as he scored 50 points with a midrange jumper over Durant.
JAYSON.— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 29, 2021
Game four is Sunday, May 30 at 7 p.m. in Boston, with more fans expected to pack the seats. According to Tim Bontemps, a “near full capacity” crowd is expected at TD Garden on Sunday.