By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
On the night Jayson Tatum found out he would be an All-Star, it was a Celtics former All-Star along with an All-Star snub who led the way in a 119-104 win over the Golden State Warriors Thursday night at TD Garden.
Gordon Hayward led all scorers with 25 points, all of which he scored in the first three quarters. The Celtics forward went 8-for-15 from the field and hit all six of his free throws. The game is Hayward’s fourth straight scoring 20-plus points. He also grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in the effort.
Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown turned in 18 points to go along with seven rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Brown showed a mean streak most of the night, playing at an aggressive level on both ends of the floor.
Confined to a minutes restriction in his first game back from a groin injury (he ended up playing 23:52), Tatum managed to find 20 points, mostly by attacking the basket. He finished 7-for-14 from the floor, although he was just one of five from behind the three point arc.
Before tip-off, the Celtics held a five-minute tribute to Kobe Bryant. TD Garden PA announcer Eddie Palladino read a statement from the team while the names of the nine victims of Sunday’s crash were shown on the video board, and the number ‘24’ was displayed on the court via spotlights. After 24 seconds of silence, a two-minute tribute video was played. The Celtics elected to cancel the traditional lineup announcements, so the players took the floor right after the video.
Perhaps the emotional and non-traditional start threw the players off their rhythms, as both sides came out of the gates sloppy. The teams went back-and-forth early, each posting some ugly turnovers and sending balls into the stands. They went into the first TV timeout tied at 11.
The C’s picked up the energy out of the timeout, highlighted by a monster one-hand slam from Jaylen Brown. Perhaps it was a way for Brown to release some frustration; he found out in the hour before the game he wasn’t named as one of the Eastern Confrence’s All-Star reserves.
The Celtics got more aggressive as the quarter went on, namely Gordon Hayward. The Celtics forward was responsible for 15 of the team’s 29 first-quarter points on 4-for-6 shooting, including a 6-for-6 performance at the free throw line. Boston owned a seven-point lead at the first break.
Boston stretched the lead with an 15-2 run out of the quarter break, highlighted by a Jayson Tatum fast-break slam. The third-year All-Star didn’t seem bothered on the play by a groin strain that held him out the previous three games.
Aggression was the key to the Celtics run. Midway through the second quarter, the Celtics five steals accounted for nine of Golden State’s turnovers. In turn, those turnovers resulted in 14 points the other way for Boston.
The Celtics went with a smaller lineup for the rest of the half, which allowed the Warriors to take advantage and close the gap a bit. An 8-2 run by Golden State cut the Celtics halftime lead to just 10 points, 60-50.
Quarter three got started with a 12-4 Celtics run. Brown has a particularly strong start to the quarter with five points, an assist and an offensive rebound leading to another bucket all within the first three and a half minutes.
Once again, the Celtics struggled late in the quarter but avoided a major run by the opponent. Boston held a 91-79 lead through three quarters, behind Hayward’s game-high 25 points.
With Hayward (a team-high 29 minutes) and Jaylen Brown (5 fouls) on the bench to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics turned to their two All-Stars to carry them down the stretch. Tatum contributed six points in the first six minutes of the period, while Kemba Walker shook off a cold start (3-11 from the field) and hit a pair of back-to-back baskets to stretch the Boston lead to 16 points and force a Golden State timeout.
Hayward and Brown then returned with about five and a half to play, and the Celtics stretched their lead to a game-best 19 points. That allowed Brad Stevens a chance to let rookies Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards see the floor as the game wound down.
With the win, the Celtics move to 32-15 on the season, good for third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. After losing six of 10 to start the new year, the C’s have now won five of their last six.
The Celtics return home on Saturday for a matchup with the 31-18 Philadelphia 76ers. It’s the fourth and final regular season meeting between the teams this season. The Sixers have won all three games so far, most recently defeating the Celtics 109-98 in Philly back on January 9. Tip-off for Saturday is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at TD Garden. Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell will be on the call on 105.7 WROR, with pregame coverage starting at 8 p.m.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com