Man, you’ve got to give Jayson Tatum credit. The man’s battled Covid-19 this year, had his ups and downs, but has not shied down from a fight.
After having a relatively pedestrian Game 1 and 2 in Brooklyn, Tatum rewarded fans in Boston with a huge Game 3 that Celtics fans in attendance will never forget. The franchise player put up a huge line tonight: 50 PTS, 6 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 16-30 FG, 5-11 3P, 13-15 FT.
It sure was a team effort to get the win, but Tatum was the catalyst that allowed his team to survive an 80-point assault from Kevin Durant (39 PTS, 9 REB, 4 STL) and James Harden (41 PTS, 7 REB, 10 AST). Kyrie Irving (16 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST) wasn’t a big factor in the game, and that will bother him considering how he would have loved to silence the crowd that was jeering him every time he touched the ball.
Boston showed a great fighting spirit to cut the series of deficit to 1-2, and they played tough defense down the stretch that got into the Nets’ heads. Marcus Smart (23 PTS, 3 REB, 6 AST, 5-8 3P) shot lights out from beyond the arc and was every bit the incessant wing pest that he’s built his reputation on. He wasn’t afraid to sacrifice his body, even if he wasn’t always able to draw those charge calls.
Game 3 was an excellent reminder not just of how good Tatum is, but how tough the Celtics are. They got a big contribution from Tristan Thompson (19 PTS, 13 REB), who’s got a ring to his name. Nobody on the Nets grabbed more than nine rebounds. Evan Fournier (17 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST) will also relish this victory, especially considering how vocal and angry he was during Game 2 – where he got in a heated exchange with Durant while the Celtics were down big.
The Nets will have to go back to the drawing board, especially as it looked like they got a little too reliant on burning clock with iso-ball again. In Game 2, their starting five combined for 23 assists, with Joe Harris having the least with three and Harden having the most with seven. This was far from the case tonight, as Irving had two, Durant and Blake Griffin had one apiece, Joe Harris had none, and the lone high-assist man was James Harden with 10.
It gets easier to key in on defense when the ball isn’t moving around as freely. I’m not saying that it’s easy to guard Durant, Harden or Irving, but the game gets much harder when they’re moving the ball around better like they did in Game 2. Opportunities open up with a free-flowing offense.
What’s probably most surprising is that the Celtics pulled this through with a terrible scoring night for Kemba Walker (6 PTS, 8 REB, 3 AST), but at least he made up for it with relentless hustle and fighting for every board that he could. Walker had more rebounds than any Nets player except for Durant.
Playoff games are often won on grit and determination, and this was one of those games. The Nets are still undoubtedly the more talented team, and it’s hard to see them drop three more games against the Celtics.
Nothing is impossible, though, and this important Game 3 victory will feed into Tatum’s confidence heading into the fourth game. One thing is for certain, though. These Celtics are not ready to back down. You can’t say that they didn’t face the Nets’ best tonight, especially considering how many points Durant and Harden combined for. If you include Kyrie’s contribution, that’s 96 points from their Big Three.
Yes, they miss Jaylen Brown, but it doesn’t look like they want to make excuses. Win or lose, they’ll go down swinging. For NBA fans, that’s nothing but good news. Let’s hope for another great battle in a few days.
For now, let’s celebrate Jayson Tatum’s big performance, and also be appreciative of how good this game was.