Boston Celtics

People may say Jayson Tatum was sloppy at times against the Warriors. But nobody can say he quit.

Unsurprisingly, Tatum played a key role in the Celtics’ 121-118 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors Thursday night – their first win over the Warriors since Golden State dispatched them in the NBA Finals last year. But it was the duality of his performance that really stood out.

There’s no way the Celtics would have won this game without Tatum playing at the MVP-caliber level fans have now become accustomed to at times. At the same time though, he was involved in some key sequences that nearly cost the team the game.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 19: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Golden State Warriors during overtime at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 19: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Golden State Warriors during overtime at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

  • Early on, it looked like it might be an off night for Tatum. He was 1-for-4 in the first quarter with two points. Instead, it was Al Horford doing most of the heavy lifting for the C’s early on, as he contributed 10 first-quarter points.

    Tatum checked out towards the end of the first quarter, as is usually the case with the Celtics’ rotations. But that’s where his night stopped being just any other night.

    After the quarter break, Tatum returned to the floor for the Celtics. That’s where he’d stay for the rest of the night, as he didn’t sub out again. In total, Tatum played the entire final 41 minutes of this one including overtime, finishing with a game-high and regular season career-high 48:07 on the floor.

    Asked after the game about playing Tatum that much, head coach Joe Mazzulla called it an on-the-fly decision, rather than part of the game plan. “I looked at him, he looked at me, and we were kind of like yeah, and that was it,” Mazzulla said after the game.

  • Jan 19, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) moves the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 19, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) moves the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

  • Staying on the floor seemed to allow Tatum to find a rhythm, a rhythm that began at the free throw line. In the second quarter Tatum shot 2-of-7 from the floor but got to the line six times, and hit all six attempts. He had 11 points in the frame.

    That set the stage for the second half. Over the final 29 minutes – including overtime, Tatum scored 21 points, the most by any any player in the game that span. That included a handful of key shots, as he had six points over the final five minutes of regulation and then hit a three pointer in Draymond Green’s face in overtime to give the C’s a seven-point lead.

  • While those plays helped keep the Celtics in the game, Tatum’s ball control (or lack thereof) was the reason the game remained close and ended up in overtime. He had four turnovers in the fourth quarter, with three sloppy plays and two outright throwaways in the final five minutes.

    Ultimately though, Tatum showed a resurgence that hasn’t been a regular part of his game in recent years. This year he’s been much better about shaking off slow starts, and Thursday night did it on the biggest stage the Celtics have played on yet this season. It was somehow still a game for his MVP resume, even with potential costly mistakes late – mistakes he can’t afford to replicate in the future. Simply, his performance was one where he had to help the team overcome himself, and he did just that.

    Tatum finished with 34 points,  points, a career-high 19 rebounds, and six assists, making him the first Celtics player to record 30+ points, 15+ rebounds, and 5+ assists in a single game since Paul Pierce did so in 2002. He’s also the first Celtic with 30+ points and 19+ rebounds in a game since Antoine Walker hit those marks in 2000, and just the 11th player in franchise history to put those two together.

    It wasn’t just Tatum who had a notable night though. Here’s a few other takeaways from Thursday night’s game…

  • Jaylen Brown saves the day, twice

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 19: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 19: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Similar to Tatum, Jaylen Brown started the game slow before surging late and making a couple of key plays. He was 1-of-6 with three points in the first half, but from halftime on connected on 5-of-12 attempts scoring 13 points.

    His biggest shot was his lone made three. After starting 0-for-3 from beyond on the arc, Brown was set up by a Marcus Smart no-look pass for a game-tying three with 20 seconds to go. The shot was lightly contested on the wing, but it wasn’t exactly wide open either. Still, Brown knocked it down to force overtime.

    “I just let it fly,” Brown said after the game. “Hadn’t been in rhythm, like, the whole game, but I’m just focused on the next play. I got an open look and I knocked it down.”

    Brown’s other big play won’t show up in the box score, but it was massive. With 37 seconds to go in overtime, Smart threw the ball away following an inbound leading to an open Warriors three. On the ensuing inbounds pass with 30 seconds to go and the Celtics up three, he almost did it again. However, Brown made an incredibly athletic play to hurdle the sideline and keep the ball in-bounds, tapping it back to Tatum. The 20-second sequence both should have won, then nearly lost, then almost certainly did win the game for the C’s.

  • “What a welcome back, right?” Brown said after the game, in which he played 41:26 in his first action since Jan. 11 (he missed the previous three games due to a leg injury). “But I love it. It’s a part of the challenge. I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I’m happy it came out to be a win.”

  • A big night for Big Al

    Jan 19, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) reacts after his basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 19, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) reacts after his basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Boston has become accustomed to athletes holding off father time for far longer than normal. Tom Brady, David Ortiz, and Zdeno Chara, among others, all spent years proving age is a state of mind. In terms of defying the aging process, it may be time to start putting Al Horford in that category as well. Despite being written off as part of a salary dump when he was re-acquired by the team last offseason, the 36-year-old has been a major contributor in the year and a half since he returned to the team.

    There would have been no late-game heroics from Tatum or Brown had it not been for Horford’s performance throughout, but especially early in the game. Over the first seven minutes of this one, Horford had eight points and five rebounds, and finished the first quarter halfway to a double-double.

    He hit a couple of big shots late in the game too when the Warriors’ defense began collapsing on Tatum and Brown. He hit one three with 90 seconds to go in regulation, getting the Celtics within a point of the Warriors at 104-103. He then hit another with two minutes to go in overtime, extending the C’s lead to four points.

    There was also a big block on Jordan Poole following his fourth quarter three, one of his three blocks on the night. However, the impact of that play was wiped out by one of Tatum’s turnovers.

    In total, Horford played 37:15 on Thursday night. He’s averaging over 30 minutes a game for the first time since the 2019-2020 season, but also has his highest field goal percentage (48.8) and three point percentage (44.2) since then. Only Tatum, Brown, and Smart are playing more minutes then him. The question for the last year has been how long can the Celtics lean on Horford like this, but he continues to show up big when they need him most. He’s making this workload work right now, but the Celtics should make sure down the stretch they get him fresh for the playoffs.

  • Did the Celtics solve their Steph Curry problem?

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 19: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics steals the ball from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 19: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics steals the ball from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half at TD Garden on January 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Warriors 121-118. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    From the jump, Steph Curry picked up right where he left off against the Celtics in the Finals and the teams’ first matchup of this regular season. Over the first three quarters he shot 7-of-16 from the floor, including 5-of-11 from three, putting up 22 points. That included a steal into a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer that gave Golden State a 55-54 lead going into the break.

    He did slow down late in the game, probably from a combination of the Celtics’ defense and general fatigue (he played 30 of the first 36 minutes). Over the final 15 minutes of the game he was just 2-of-9 and scored seven points. That lack of an impact limited the Warriors’ ability to pull away when the Celtics opened the door late in the game.

    If it was attrition, it’s not something the Celtics can count on if/when they face the Warriors again. If it was a defensive adjustment that slowed him down, they need to pay careful attention to what they did and make sure they could replicate it. No team stands in between the Celtics and their ultimate goal more than the Warriors, and no player more than Curry. He was the main reason the Celtics wouldn’t overcome the Warriors back in June, and if they’ve figured out a way to limit his impact, that would be a major development.

  • 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? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.