The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets provided some serious entertainment for the afternoon crowd at TD Garden on Sunday, an explosive and star-studded shootout between two teams jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference. The story of this game centered around the two superstars at its core: Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant. The two put on an absolute show, going shot-for-shot the whole game in what was one of the most thrilling duels of the NBA season. Durant scored 37 points on 12-of-21 shooting and tacked on eight assists for good measure.
However, it was a season-best performance from Tatum that came out on top. Four days after his 24th birthday, the star forward tied Larry Bird for the Celtics’ franchise record with his fourth career 50-point game, totaling 54 points and making seemingly every play down the stretch to come away with the 126-120 win.
This was a different-looking Nets team than the one the Celtics soundly thumped in their past two outings. Playing on the road, they enjoyed the part-time services of Irving, but more importantly, Durant took the floor for his second game since returning from a two month injury layoff.
It was apparent from the jump that this would be a much more significant test for the Celtics. Points were plentiful, with Durant opening the afternoon’s proceedings by scoring 12 first quarter points while Tatum tacked on nine of his own. Both teams shot 50% from the field, displaying some excellent offensive cohesion and matching each other play-for-play. They entered the second quarter with Brooklyn on top, 34-29.
This was a stand-out performance from Robert Williams III, harkening back to his electric Game 1 against Brooklyn last season in which he blocked a Celtics playoff record nine shots. He finished with five blocks this time out — including four in the first quarter alone — and assaulted the rim with his signature repertoire of alley-oop finishes and put-back dunks. The result was another jam-packed stat line from the young center: 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 5 blocks.
Big-time shot-making continued to define the game in the second quarter. Tatum asserted himself as play resumed, leading the Celtics on a lightning-fast 8-0 run with a pair of effortless pull-up threes to prompt a Brooklyn timeout just 90 seconds into the frame. The two teams continued to spew fire from three, combining to shoot 15-of-30 from deep in the first half. They entered the halftime break with Brooklyn ahead by two, 60-58.
The second half commenced with a Tatum eruption, as he scored 10 quick points and found Marcus Smart for a triple to push the Celtics ahead. As the quarter progressed, though, the Nets reclaimed their advantage and began to build some separation. They rattled off an 11-0 run behind a heavy dose of Durant, and built the largest lead of the night for either team (nine) in the process. Boston answered with an 8-0 run of their own, and entered the final quarter trailing 90-89.
The two teams juggled the lead back and forth as play commenced in the fourth quarter. Tatum cracked the 40-point threshold with just over nine minutes to play, slithering to the rim for a layup to give the Celtics a two-point edge. A few moments later, Tatum was whistled for his fourth foul of the game on a Durant three-pointer, and after an unsuccessful challenge from Ime Udoka, Durant put the Nets back ahead with a perfect trip to the line.
As the fourth quarter reached its midpoint, a pair of runs rapidly tilted the scales of the contest. The Celtics rattled off an 8-0 run to build a 108-100 advantage, but the Nets responded with an 11-2 run of their own to go back ahead. As had been the theme all afternoon, the Celtics turned to Tatum when things got dicey, and he simply continued to deliver. A pair of free throws, a ludicrous finish at the rim through a double-team and a smooth pull-up jumper pushed him over the 50-point mark and built a five-point Celtics lead with just over a minute remaining in regulation.
In the midst of Tatum’s season-best night, it was Boston’s other star who finally put the game away. Jaylen Brown had a quiet outing for much of the afternoon, clearly not 100% in his return from an ankle sprain. But he made the plays that counted most; he splashed a three with just under 40 seconds to play to push the Celtics ahead by six, and then pushed the lead ahead to eight with a pair of free throws on the next possession. Brooklyn hung within a couple possessions as they played the intentional foul game the rest of the way, but the miracle they needed never materialized.
Next up, the Celtics will enjoy a short break before hitting the road, travelling to Charlotte to face off with the Hornets on Wednesday night at 7 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.
For more postgame coverage of the Celtics’ thrilling win over Brooklyn, tune into the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown.