The Boston Celtics’ first round playoff series against the formidable Brooklyn Nets was always going to be a long shot. Playing without Jaylen Brown, lost for the season with an injured wrist, was issue enough, but further injuries to Kemba Walker and Robert Williams increasingly stacked the deck against them. After a transcendent 50-point performance from Jayson Tatum in a remarkable Game 3 win, though, they entered Sunday night’s Game 4 at the TD Garden with a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately, that spark was snuffed out quickly. The Nets took the court in TD Garden and smothered the Celtics for almost the entire 48 minutes of play. Tatum continued his superstar-level performance from Game 3, leading the Celtics with 40 points on the night. But with both Walker and Williams sidelined, Boston found themselves simply too shorthanded to meaningfully compete. Brooklyn’s superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving were completely locked in, combining for a massive 104 points en route to a 141-126 victory.
The energy from the Celtics’ Game 3 victory clearly carried over into the early minutes of Game 4. They got off to an extremely strong start, carried by continued excellent shooting from behind the three-point arc that included a pair of early triples from the red-hot Smart. Brooklyn’s defense seemed off-balance, and Tatum capitalized with seven early free throws and 14 first quarter points.
Fournier ↗️↘️ Thompson pic.twitter.com/uDW0Mj8tZg— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 30, 2021
Given Boston’s missing pieces, though, minutes with Tatum on the bench were going to be crucial, and in the early going, returns were not incredibly positive. A lineup of young players led by Smart struggled in a brief appearance, and early foul trouble from Marcus Smart led to Tatum’s first rest of the night being cut short. In all, he played 11 out of 12 minutes in the first quarter, and the Celtics entered the second quarter clinging to a 34-33 lead.
The second quarter began with Tatum finally seeing meaningful minutes of rest, with Evan Fournier and the Boston bench tasked with keeping things in hand. For the most part, they did; the Nets claimed the lead behind a Harden-led lineup, but only stretched it as far as five points before Tatum returned to play.
corner pic.twitter.com/vnaIQTowxV— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 31, 2021
Unfortunately, Tatum’s return didn’t stymy the Nets’ momentum as much as hoped. Brooklyn was red-hot for much of the quarter, led by an emergent Harden, and Boston’s deficit continued to widen. The Brooklyn lead hit double-digits with just over four minutes remaining in the half, and gave the Celtics no slack the rest of the way. They’d lead Boston 73-60 at the halftime break.
The status quo changed very little as play began in the second half. The Nets just continued to click on all cylinders, led by their big three, and it wasn’t long before the Celtics were staring down a deficit of more than 20 points. After a scoreless second quarter, Tatum found his scoring stroke once again, scoring 11 straight points for the Celtics at one point. But the collective effort of the Nets was simply too much for Boston to overcome, and Tatum’s outburst didn’t significantly cut into the deficit.
The story for the rest of the night was essentially just Brooklyn continuing to score and score and score. Suddenly, the Celtics were staring at a 21-point deficit with one quarter remaining to play, 112-91. Things did not improve as play began in the fourth quarter, with the Nets connecting on a pair of early three-pointers that felt like the final nails in Boston’s coffin for the evening. The rest of the final quarter was a mere formality, and the Celtics fell to a 3-1 deficit in the series.
Next up, the Celtics will travel to Brooklyn with their season on the line, taking the court for a win-or-go-home Game 5 against the Nets at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.