In a contest featuring the Nets’ trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, it was Celtics star Jayson Tatum who stood out as the best player on the floor.
After struggling in Games 1 and 2 of Boston’s first-round series against Brooklyn, Tatum exploded for 50 points in Friday night’s Game 3, guiding the Celtics to a 125-119 victory in front of an electric TD Garden crowd. The 23-year-old shot 16 of 30 from the field, 5 of 11 from beyond the arc and 13 of 15 from the free throw line, adding seven assists and six rebounds in 41 minutes.
Tatum became the third-youngest player in NBA history to score 50 points in a playoff game, with only Rick Barry and Michael Jordan reaching that mark faster than him. He also became just the sixth Celtics player to hit that point total in the postseason, joining John Havlicek (54), Isaiah Thomas (53), Ray Allen (51), Sam Jones (51) and Bob Cousy (50).
The outburst was a welcome sight for Boston after Tatum scored 31 points combined in the two losses at Barclays Center and had to leave Game 2 early with an eye injury. Celtics coach Brad Stevens, not normally one for superlatives, had nothing but praise for Tatum.
“He’s so advanced for 23 years old,” Stevens said. “I’ve said the word ‘special.’ I don’t say that very often, obviously. He just has a unique ability to score the ball, to slither through seams, to find angles to score. But also he’s got the vision to make every right read. He was super tonight, but he’s been like that a lot this year. He’s special.”
As for Tatum’s self-evaluation, he said it was just simply “one of those nights.” The Celtics will need a few more out of him if they want to pull off a huge upset against the Nets.
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