It’s a series now. Or at least it has the feel of one.
After the Brooklyn Nets dominated the first two games and were on their way to another easy win early in the third game, the Boston Celtics showed some resilience to take a critical 125-119 win at TD Garden on Friday night and to get back into the series. 2-1.
Here are five takeaways the Celtics are fighting the nets to at least keep things interesting:
There he goes again
With a talent gap as large as that between the Celtics and the Nets, it took Boston a Herculean effort from Jayson Tatum to play a game on this series, and he delivered it.
Tatum was sensational, hitting a playoff career high of 50 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the 16 of 30 shooting. It was the fourth time that this season that Tatum had scored at least 50 points, and he was only the sixth player in Boston franchise history to achieve a playoff performance of 50 points. It was also a much-needed show from Tatum when Brooklyn bottled the Celtics star in the series’ first two games with Tatum, a combined 9-of-32 off the floor in Game 3.
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Tatum prevailed from the start and outperformed his performance in game 2 of nine in the first quarter alone. But Tatum went to another level in the third quarter, and the networks had no answer to that.
Tatum scored 19 points in frame and had a couple of dazzling possessions sinking a jumper off the wing while Kyrie Irving spotted him, triggering a nasty regression before drilling a 3-pointer over Nicolas Claxton and hitting a fallaway jumper over James Hardening.
Tatum’s aggressiveness paid off when he made 13 of 15 free throws.
Irving’s night started with a chorus of boos as he spoke to warm up before the game, and he heard them every time he touched the ball as soon as the game started.
Irving didn’t matter when he played with fans in the stands for the first time in Boston since signing with the Nets two seasons ago. Irving never really got going in his 41 minutes, scoring 16 points on an inefficient 6-of-17 shootout.
Irving didn’t seem to have a problem with the crowd that kept on top of him after saying he hoped there wouldn’t be “subtle racism” from the Boston crowd.
“It’s basketball,” said Irving. “I’ve been to quite a few environments in my life. … If it’s nothing special, I’m cool with it.”
Tatum didn’t have his usual runner-up mate in Jaylen Brown, who is on hiatus for the remainder of the season after surgery on torn wrist ligaments, but Marcus Smart has filled the role admirably.
Smart contributed 23 points in 8-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 in 3-pointer shooting, to serve as a vital spark. Smart caught fire alongside Tatum in the third quarter when the duo combined scored 29 of Boston’s 35 points.
Smart drained all three of its 3-point attempts during the quarter, including a 4-point game. Smart also delivered its signature hustle games, including the fourth quarter indictment against Irving. Smart was a key early on too, helping the Celtics dig out a 19-4 hole to start the competition.
While Tatum carried the offensive load, Tristan Thompson set the tone with his game. The veteran wouldn’t allow the Celtics to be pushed around the boards and dominated as nine of his 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass. He also registered 19 points.
When Thompson won the indoor bout, he also showed off some hops that he rarely showed in the regular season when he dunked a Kemba Walker miss early in the fourth quarter. Thompson lived up to a strong playoff actor’s bill in this case.
Walker was not 100% with a bruise on his left knee in Game 2, and he tried to put the ball in the basket on the hardwood floor, scoring only six points on 3-of-14. Walker also didn’t hit any of the seven 3-pointers he tried.
Walker managed to score eight rebounds, but the Celtics star missed out on some easy layups that would have helped create a stronger break up against a Nets team that didn’t go away that easily.
Follow Greg Dudek on Twitter @ gdudek10.