The Boston Celtics dropped two tight ones in overtime early in the season to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but after tonight’s 117-113 win, they’re in position to try to tie the season series before next week’s final matchup. For the Cavs, Donovan Mitchell continued his dominance with 44 points, his second 40-point outing against the Celtics this year. Boston was led by Jayson Tatum, who broke out of his slump to notch 41 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists..
For the first time since the All-Star Break concluded, Jayson Tatum looked way more comfortable out there. Following his ejection against the New York Knicks on Monday, Tatum put up 15 points in the second quarter alone, where he had space to really get comfortable.
gotta see this again pic.twitter.com/kAPGKRblxU— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 2, 2023
Interestingly, Grant Williams got zero run for Boston. Joe Mazzulla’s going to have a lot of tough decisions to make as the team enters the final stretch before the playoffs start next month (sheesh). Mike Muscala filled in decently. He’s not nearly the defender Williams is, but he held his own while spacing the floor (despite not making a shot).
Boston feasted in the interior, which is an interesting approach given gestures wildly all of the 7-footers on Cleveland’s roster. After a dreadful shooting performance against the Knicks, Boston had tunnel vision to the rim, and that led to a first-half grind that led to some entertaining hoops. As tight as Boston’s defense was tonight (and it was really crisp), Cleveland kept finding a way to stay in the game behind timely buckets from Mitchell and Darius Garland (29 points, 9 assists).
Then the third quarter happened, and Tatum really woke up.
Once JT hit the side step 3-pointer over Jarrett Allen, I confidently said to no one in particular, “I want you to put the word out that we’re back up.” I’m going to say something dangerously controversial, but the Celtics are a much better team when Tatum plays like he’s unstoppable. He hit his season average about halfway through the third quarter, scoring an additional 18 points in the frame.
three defenders ain't enough pic.twitter.com/Hh5WwX7PSC— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 2, 2023
While tonight was a lesser-than-usual performance from Jaylen Brown (16 points), Marcus Smart and the starting frontcourt picked up the slack. Smart was a defensive menace after being called out by Bam Adebayo, stealing the ball three times to go with 14 points.
Robert Williams and Al Horford just missed perfection from the floor, and not for a small amount either. Horford put in 23 points on a tight 6-8 from behind the 3-point line along with 11 rebounds, and Williams put in 11 points on perfect shooting to go with 11 rebounds.
Have yourself a night, Al pic.twitter.com/7HVN8H5QCC— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 2, 2023
No one for the Cavs was remarkable in any way outside of Garland and Mitchell, the latter of whom put in 19 in just the third quarter to try to keep the Cavs alive (they were basically dead). Boston outscored Cleveland 41-26 in the third quarter.
Donovan Mitchell stayed in the game through the start of the fourth, helping to propel the Cavs to a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 13. While Cleveland wasn’t able to completely close the gap, they kept it annoyingly competitive. With Mitchell playing the entire second half until the game was out of reach, the possibility was there. The Cs never fully relinquished control, however, even through a mini-collapse in the final minutes in which Darius Garland put up 11 quick points in a hurry to cut the lead to 4.
Smart and Tatum iced the game at the freethrow line.
The Celtics pulled out a fun one against Cleveland to earn their 45th win of the year. Their next contest comes on Friday against the re-tooled Brooklyn Nets as they seek to reclaim their spot at the top of the league.