BOSTON — Jayson Tatum scored a playoff career-high 50 points to carry the Boston Celtics back into their series against the Brooklyn Nets with a 125-119 victory on Friday night in Game 3.
In an emotionally charged atmosphere with the fans booing and chanting at Kyrie Irving every time he was involved in something, Tatum displayed an array of drives, step-back jumpers and 3-pointers to cut the Nets’ lead to 2-1.
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.
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.
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series 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.
Marcus Smart added 23 points for the Celtics, Tristan Thompson gave them 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.
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.
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, coach Steve 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 Isaiah Thomas did it May 2, 2017. … Coach Brad 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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