The Boston Celtics held the Portland Trail Blazers along the stretch, drawing a 116-115 victory as their journey continued.
Here’s what happened.
The big picture
Similar to their victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, the Celtics held on early against the Portland stars and gathered behind the huge third quarter of Jason Tatum to take the lead. Tatum continued to shine in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics held out the Blazers in the final minutes. Leading one by one, Marcus Smart deliberately missed a free throw at the end of the game and the Celtics forced Damian Lillard to rise to a full court in the buzzer to claim his second right during the trip.
Star of the game
Jason Tatum ̵
Tatum started slowly and allowed the game to come to him. When it finally happened, he poured 25 points from the second half, including a massive 3-point side step that gave the Celtics a decisive lead late.
Why it matters
What a twist for this team that looked dead in the water just a few weeks ago. Tuesday’s win (which bled deeply Wednesday in Boston) gave the Celtics an important win that put them in fifth place in the standings after losses to both the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat. They also remain just a game behind the Atlanta Hawks, who beat the Raptors.
All of these games are important, even if you find it early to start watching the board. The battle to avoid the game tournament continues.
1. Jason Tatum’s recent stretch is reminiscent of last year’s run, when he was arguably the league’s best player in February. When he’s obviously the best player on the team and when the ball keeps moving, even though he’s the best player on the team, there’s a lot of pop in the Celtics’ attack that was missing earlier this season.
2. The Celtics run Enes Kanter, who finished -18 in his 20 minutes. As the Celtics learned last season, Kanter is a terrible defender of the “lift and throw”, and when Yusuf Nurkic went to the bench, the Celtics feasted on an open-minded diet and lanyards. Coming out of a timeout in the fourth quarter, the Blazers took Canter out of the game and left Nurkic on the bench to buy him another minute of rest – he chose to go without a big man, hoping to make the Celtics attack.
The Celtics sometimes miss Canter, especially against the Sixers. However, they do not miss his defense with pick and roll.
3. Kemba Walker kept the Celtics alive in the first half, as Jalen Brown shot 5 to 14 and Tatum scored just seven points. Walker hit a few 3-pointers and assumed he still had his blast in long stretches. He scored just seven points in the second half and instead passed the baton to Tatum.
As the Celtics’ recent game rises, perhaps the only thing missing is Walker’s constant foul. If he gets in shape while the season is over, the Celtics can become a team, even the best contenders won’t expect to stand up.
4. Marcus Smart put together a phenomenal performance in defense and no game was more impressive than this – the clever pigeon tried to grab a theft and appeared to escape, then flew back into the frame and stole a pass from Enes Kanter. The Celtics’ subsequent possession ended with a three-pointer from Tatum.
Marcus Smart all noise and heart pic.twitter.com/mc3foAhosx
– CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) April 14, 2021
But Smart was also excellent against Damian Lillard – one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the league. He runs a hard line to be aggressive enough to embarrass Lillard while holding his hands back and avoiding fouls – a performance that Brad Stevens rated after the game as one of the best he has seen this season against the star. Blazers.
5. The Celtics struggled to bounce back in the last minutes and it almost cost them. In a crucial sequence, they had three options to end Portland’s offensive possession and allowed the Blazers to maintain possession each time. Finally, the Blazers released an incoming set that freed Lillard for an open 3-point that tied the game.
The Celtics got out on Tuesday, but they need to clear those moments ahead.
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