BOSTON – Each of the 4,789 fans who entered the TD Garden on Friday night were ready to boo Kyrie Irving until their voices turned hoarse. But after the Boston Celtics walked away with a surprising 122-115 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, those same fans were doing something very different when they left: chanting Jayson’s name. Tatum.
Tatum scored 50 points for the second straight game at TD Garden along with six rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes. It was a spectacular performance that was enough to surpass his former teammate Irving, as well as former Brooklyn MVPs Kevin Durant and James Harden, to drag the Celtics back into this series.
“It’s just one of those nights,” Tatum said. “Trying to protect the home court, trying to get a win at all costs.
“Sometimes nights like these are needed.”
Given that Tatum has scored at least 50 points four times in two months after never doing so in his four-year NBA career, maybe he can seriously say it was “just one of those nights” and believe it.
But few players can say they have gone toe-to-toe with Harden and Durant and made it to the top. That’s exactly what Tatum did, including the shot that took him to 50 points, a jumper shot over Durant with 41.8 seconds to go that gave Boston a seven-point lead and almost ensured the Celtics would return to this series. .
“Just make a play,” said Tatum, who before Friday night had scored a combined 31 points in the first two games and dropped out of Game 2 in the third quarter after Durant accidentally hit him in the eye.
While postgame attention was focused on Tatum’s performance, before the game it was all on Irving, who was making his first Boston appearance with fans in the arena since leaving the Celtics in free agency two years ago. He made his first on-court appearance with just over eight minutes left on the pregame clock and immediately received a loud chorus of boos from the few thousand fans in attendance as part of the 25 percent capacity at TD Garden and which will be greater. Sunday for Game 4.
“Yes, we expect a bigger crowd on Sunday,” Irving said. “It was a great start to see what this environment is going to be like and look forward to the challenge.”
While those boos quickly died down, Irving was booed again during player introductions, when his name was called penultimate, before Durant and after Harden.
The same thing happened every time he touched the ball during the game, with raucous cheers after each missed shot from Irving.
“I mean it’s basketball,” Irving said. “I’ve been in a few environments like this in my life. So like I said, as long as it’s strictly the nature of basketball, there’s nothing else. I’m fine with that. I’m going to prepare a bit with the team tomorrow and then get ready. for Sunday, but I want to keep things clear. “
Irving had a fabulous season for Brooklyn, becoming one of only seven players to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line for a full season. But he missed a lot in Game 3, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting. After going 1 of 5 shots from the field and scoring just two points in the first half, hitting a jumper midway through the second quarter on the rookie. Irving’s Payton Pritchard slowly got into the game in the second half, with his triple with 7:35 left in the quarter, cutting Boston’s lead to 105-97.
But he found himself on the wrong end of several home stretch matchups on defense, including against Tatum, much to the delight of home fans, as anyone other than Durant or Harden did next to nothing for Brooklyn. Those two combined for 80 points; plus Irving’s 16 points, and the rest of the Nets combined to score 23 on 8 of 25 shooting.
“It was huge,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of limiting Brooklyn’s supporting cast. “Those guys hurt us especially in Game 2. I think Joe [Harris] he hit seven 3s in Game 2, and they fed on it. So for us to get down and hold them steady and not let ourselves get hurt, as well as those guys that left, it was big for us. And for our guys to come in and do exactly what they did to us in Game 2, and that’s contributing, both ends of the court, it’s exactly what we need and we have to continue with that. “
The Boston crowd also took the opportunity to let Irving know how they felt about him during a couple of timeouts in the second half. After he fouled Smart on a 3-pointer with 5:11 left in the third, during a review to see if the foul would be considered flagrant (it wasn’t), the crowd went into a prolonged chant of ‘Go away Fuck it, Kyrie. ‘
Then when Smart and Blake Griffin collided in the middle of the room and Smart needed a moment to recover, the crowd yelled, “Kyrie sucks!” during all the dead time.
Ultimately, however, this game came down to Tatum’s game.
And while Harden (41 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) and Durant (39 points and nine rebounds) were typically terrific, Tatum tied the two former League MVPs game-for-game and shot-for-shot throughout this game for Boston who returned to this series even as fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown watched from the bench after undergoing season-ending wrist surgery earlier this month.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We did a good job at home, but that’s a job that will require a lot of stamina and he will continue there to mark him and make things difficult for him as a group. Put different people on him and support those who need support to be able to lock him up when we have guys who can mark him.”
Tatum also had some help. Tristan Thompson had his best game as a Celtic, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Smart was off with 23 points and six assists, hitting 8 of 11 from the field, 5 of 8 from 3-point range and making several key defensive plays. And Evan Fournier finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
The Celtics tied the Nets on 3s, shooting 16 of 39 compared to 16 of 38 for Brooklyn.
“They tied us on triples,” Durant said. “They made 16 3-pointers today … so they started it from the 3-point line, which will keep any team in the game; we have to do a better job in the competition.
“They shoot 50 percent from the field, we can’t allow that. Forty-one? [por ciento] from 3? We cannot allow that. And get bounces? We just have to be better. “
Brooklyn will have a chance to be better on Sunday night, and with it, a chance to regain control of this series. But for one night at least, Boston was better, thanks to Tatum dueling the Brooklyn star constellation.
“He’s so advanced for a 23-year-old,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I’ve said the word ‘special’. I don’t say that very often, obviously. He just has a unique ability to score, slip through the seams, find angles to score, but he also has the vision to do all the correct readings. .
“It was great tonight.”