Celtics vs. Cavaliers score: ‘Underappreciated’ Jayson Tatum ignites Boston with

The Boston Celtics are back in front in their second-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The top-seeded Celtics got 33 points from Jayson Tatum and another 28 points from Jaylen Brown in their 106-93 victory in Game 3 on Saturday night. Boston, which now leads 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, began the second half on a 14-0 run and kept a mostly comfortable lead over Cleveland for the remainder of the game.

Donovan Mitchell scored a team-high 33 points for the Cavs, who couldn’t come up with a second straight victory after winning Game 2 in Boston by 24 points on Thursday. Mitchell hit seven of his 12 3-point attempts, but the rest of the Cavs were 5 for 24 from beyond the arc. The loss was Cleveland’s first at home in the 2024 playoffs.

The Celtics are heavily favored in this series and are trying to follow a similar script to their first-round takedown of the Miami Heat. The Celtics had a surprising Game 2 loss at home in that series before winning Games 3 and 4 on the road and closing things out in five games.

Jrue Holiday had 18 points for Boston on Saturday, shooting an efficient 7 for 10 from the field and 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, but Tatum was the catalyst on Saturday.

In his first playoff game this season, Tatum shot 7-of-18 from the field, but finished with a triple-double. That began a trend in which he largely played very well in all of the secondary aspects of the game, but could not buy a bucket.

Over the Celtics’ first seven games of this run, Tatum was averaging 21.7 points, 10 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, but shooting 40.7% from the field and 26.8% from 3-point land — the least efficient postseason numbers of his career. The result was a strange situation where Tatum was playing well overall, but not doing the one thing the Celtics truly need from him if they want to win the title.

Following the Celtics’ surprise defeat at home in Game 2 on Thursday, in which Tatum shot 7-of-17 from the field, he told reporters that he wasn’t concerned.

“I’ve been in the league long enough that sometimes you just don’t make [shots],” Tatum said. “You just gotta still continue to take the right shots, and it’ll even out… I know how to score the ball. Scoring is kinda like the least of my worries.”

He backed up that talk immediately by knocking down his first three shots on Saturday en route to his 33 points — his highest total of the playoffs. While his 11-of-25 shooting performance wasn’t the most efficient, it was notable that he took more shots than any other game this postseason. He added 13 rebounds and six assists, but it was his scoring that made all the difference on the road.

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla was extremely pleased with Tatum’s performance.

“He’s a really great player that gets taken advantage of because he’s been really good for a long time,” Mazzulla said. “Underappreciated.”

To that point, Tatum now has 11 playoff games with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. That’s more than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Hakeem Olajuwon, just to name a few Hall of Famers, and tied is for the eighth-most such games all-time.

Tatum has rightfully faced criticism at times during his career, including after Game 2 of this series, but he also gets held to an extremely high standard because of the success he’s had early in his career. He is one of the best players in the league, and he has to play like it in order for the Celtics to go on another deep playoff run.

That means doing all the little things, but it also means scoring, even if he has to force the issue at times. As great as it is to get everyone involved, the Celtics are at their best when he has the ball in his hands and is looking to be aggressive, just as he was in Game 3.

“We have a really great team, but we know we only go as far as [Jaylen Brown, who scored 28 points, and I] go,” Tatum said. “That’s being the best players, the best teammates on both ends of the floor and leading these guys every single night.”

Leave a Comment