Celtics

5 takeaways as Jayson Tatum leads Celtics over Nets with 50 points in Kyrie Irving’s return

Jayson Tatum's impressive performance made Celtics-Nets a series again.

Kyrie Irving struggled to make shots in Game 3. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The first round series between the Celtics and Nets isn’t quite done yet.

The Celtics got a huge performance from Jayson Tatum and important offense from Marcus Smart and Evan Fournier, rallying for a 125-119 victory in Game 3 to trim their series deficit to 2-1.

Here’s what happened.

The Big Picture

The Celtics looked dead in the water in the first quarter, as Brooklyn jumped out to a 19-4 lead with a barrage of 3-pointers. The Celtics’ defense had no answer for the Nets’ stars, as James Harden, Kevin Durant and Joe Harris put on a show.

Unlike Game 2, however, the Celtics were not dead in the water. A spirited effort on the defensive end sparked the offense, and the Celtics re-took the lead by the end of the period on Marcus Smart’s triple.

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Smart and Jayson Tatum were the biggest contributors as the Celtics built their advantage. The Celtics abused mismatches and built a lead as high as 17 before the Nets cut it to 12 to end the third quarter.

The Nets challenged the Celtics in the fourth, but the Celtics never let the game get within a single possession. Tatum, with some help from Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, slammed the door.

Star of the Game

Jayson Tatum – 50 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 16-for-30 shooting.

For the fourth time in the last two months, Jayson Tatum topped 50 points. The Celtics needed every one of them.

What’s Next

The Celtics need to beat the Nets three times in the next four games to win the series. That’s the bad news for Celtics fans.

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The good news? Whether or not the Celtics manage to pull this off, Celtics vs. Nets is a series again with a near-capacity crowd looming. The Celtics played well and found ways to spring Tatum free, and they worked hard defensively against Brooklyn’s best players.

At the very least, Sunday’s game will feel like a truly meaningful basketball game.

Takeaways

1. The Kyrie Irving return was toughly what you would expect. Irving took his time coming out of the locker room pre-game. When he finally walked onto the court and fans erupted in boos, Irving raised his hand twice in a “louder” gesture.

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But Irving struggled and appeared a little shaken by the (occasionally profane) boos. The Celtics defended him well, but Irving smoked a layup and missed a variety of shots he typically makes. He finally got going a bit in the second half and finished with 16 points, but he shot just 6-for-17 from the floor.

The boos will only get louder on Sunday.

2. Tatum was spectacular, which should come as no surprise, because the Celtics will not be competitive in this series unless Tatum is spectacular. The Celtics hunted his mismatches relentlessly, and the Nets obliged a surprising amount. They rarely doubled, and when they did, the Celtics made them pay.

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The Celtics’ lack of superstar depth with Jaylen Brown sidelined for the season could very well still come back to bite them if the Nets decide to throw everything — up to and including the water coolers — at Tatum again. Single-covered, however, Tatum is approaching un-guardable.

3. The Celtics might not get another performance like Friday’s from three by Marcus Smart (5-for-8) and Evan Fournier (4-for-7), but they probably won’t have to weather another 0-for-7 performance by Kemba Walker.

Smart was particularly solid and sent the TD Garden crowd into hysterics at one point by drawing a four-point play on Irving.

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4. Tristan Thompson put together perhaps his best game as a Celtic, recording 19 points and 13 rebounds. The Nets struggled to keep him off the glass, and he scored with relative ease.

Thompson struggled in Games 1 and 2, but with Rob Williams out due to an ankle sprain, his big night couldn’t have come at a better time.

5. Midway through the game, the energy seemed to shift in an interesting direction. Irving still drew plenty of boos, and Tatum drew extra cheers as he punished the Nets for switching Irving onto him. But TD Garden fans seemed more excited to cheer for an impressive rally against a tough team than to boo a player who left, and the loudest moments of the night were the biggest baskets.

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Celtics fans are, of course, never going to forgive Irving. They will still boo him and yell “You suck!” whenever he touches the ball. They will still chant “F— you, Kyrie” — likely to the consternation of whatever national broadcast picks up the game.

But on Friday, Tatum and the Celtics reminded everyone that the current team has moved on, and fans have reason to move on as well. As the Celtics — eventually — stare down the end of a tough season, and as the end of the pandemic looms, Friday was a rare moment when everything felt a little normal.

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