BOSTON – Bottled up in Brooklyn, Jayson Tatum came home and showed off an array of drives, step-back jumpers and 3-pointers.
When Tatum was done, he had one of the best playoff games in Celtics history — and the Nets had themselves a series.
Tatum scored a playoff career-high 50 points to carry Boston to a 125-119 victory on Friday night that cut Brooklyn's lead to 2-1.
“It's just one of those nights.” Tatum said. “A tough shooting night the first game and I didn't get to play much the last game because I got poked in the eye.”
In an emotionally charged atmosphere with the fans booing and chanting at Kyrie Irving every time he was involved in something, Tatum became the sixth player in franchise history to score 50 points in a playoff game.
“We had a lot of guys step up tonight around Jayson being special,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said.
After scoring 50 points in Boston's play-in tournament victory, Tatum struggled in the two games in Brooklyn but steadied the Celtics in Game 3 after the Nets shot out to a quick 15-point lead.
“There's nothing like playing at home in front of your home crowd,” he said.
He joined John Havlicek, Isaiah Thomas, Ray Allen, Sam Jones and Bob Cousy as Celtics with 50 points in a playoff game.
“He was just locked in mentally,” teammate Marcus Smart said. “We're going up against a juggernaut of a team. Like I said before, the world knows it and we know it. It's not going to be easy. You can't lay down, you can't take a step back. You have to be able to press forward and that's what we did tonight.”
It was Irving’s first game in front of Boston’s fans since he left via free agency in 2019.
James Harden led the Nets with 41 points, Kevin Durant had 39 and Irving finished with 16 on 6-of-17 shooting.
“They made shots tonight, especially Tatum,” Durant said. “He hit some tough ones over us. I don't think he made anything easy.”
Boston shot 50.6%, including 16 of 39 on 3s after shooting just 39.7% overall in the first two games.
Game 4 is set for Sunday night in Boston, where the Celtics will be allowed to have a near-capacity crowd in TD Garden when Massachusetts lifts the limits Saturday on crowd sizes due to the pandemic. It was limited to 25% on Friday.
Smart added 23 points, Tristan Thompson gave Boston a huge lift with 19 points and 13 rebounds and Evan Fournier added 17 points. Kemba Walker had a rough night, scoring only six on 3-of-14 shooting.
“I think they were a little desperate and became the aggressor after our hot start,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “They were the ones looking to drive the ball and they were the ones looking to step in with 3s. They got themselves going, took the momentum, got the crowd going and started feeling confidence for the first time in three games.”
Irving was booed when he came out for warmups, during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball, with those turning into loud cheers when he missed shots.
Things turned somewhat ugly when some fans briefly broke into a vulgar chant toward Irving a few times.
“It’s basketball. I’ve been in a few environments in my life,” Irving said. “Like I said, as long as it's just strictly the nature of basketball out there and there’s nothing extra, I’m cool with it.”
Brooklyn cut a 16-point, fourth-quarter deficit to five with just under a minute left but Tatum nailed a step-back jumper from the top and Boston held on.
Tatum scored 11 points in the final 4:46 of the third, helping Boston turn a one-point deficit into a 96-84 lead entering the final quarter.
The Nets started fast, hitting 4-of-5 shots from behind the arc to pull in front 19-4 before Tatum sparked Boston’s comeback with 21 points in the opening half that carried the Celtics to a 61-57 halftime edge. Harden and Durant nearly matched him with 17 apiece.
Tatum returned to the lineup after playing just 21 minutes in Game 2 because he was accidently poked in the right eye by Durant.
KYRIE’S BOSTON ENDING
Irving’s two seasons with the Celtics ended rocky after he became a “lightning rod” with the fans because of a belief he was unable to mesh with its young stars Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who carried Boston to the 2018 Eastern Conference finals when Irving missed the playoffs with a knee injury.
Early in Boston, Irving said he wanted to stay — even have his jersey number hanging from the rafters, and then changed his mind before bolting to join Durant. In his second and last season, Irving played in the postseason when they were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.
Nets: F Jeff Green is expected the miss the rest of the series with a left foot injury. The club is planning to reevaluate him in 10 days. With his absence, Nash thought Nic Claxton could see more minutes. He played only 16 and scored four points.
Celtics: Tatum is the first Boston player to reach 40 in three quarters since Thomas did it May 2, 2017. … Stevens said Walker was a game-time decision after sustaining a bone bruise of his left knee in Game 2. “He was pretty sore (Thursday),” Stevens said. “Went through stuff this morning, felt a little bit better. … He’ll still go through his pregame stuff. I told him to be very up front with me as he goes through it and how he feels, because obviously we don’t wanna put him in a bad spot.” … Center Robert Williams III sprained his left ankle and played just six minutes.
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