Tagged in: Jayson Tatum

Irving scores 40, Nets beat Celtics 121-109

Kyrie Irving scored 40 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 121-109 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.

James Harden had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Brooklyn, which improved to 25-13 with its 12th win in 13 matches. Landry Shamet added 18 points and fellow reserve Jeff Green concluded with 11. Joe Harris added 12 as the Nets won without Kevin Durant and newcomer Blake Griffin.

Jayson Tatum scored 31 points but Boston had its four-game winning streak snapped. Marcus Smart added 19 in his return from injury, Daniel Theis had 17 and Jaylen Brown chipped in with 13.

The first meeting between the Atlantic Division rivals since Christmas emphasized the gulf between the teams. Specifically, Brooklyn’s quick strike offense.

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The Nets started the fourth with an 88-86 lead, but it took just more than 3 minutes to extend the advantage to 100-90 even as Irving sat on the bench.

After Boston cut the lead to five following Tatum’s jumper, Irving and Joe Harris checked back into the game and the Nets promptly outscored Boston 21-14 for the remainder of the game. In that 7:34 stretch, Irving made two 3s and two free throws versus his former team, and when Green slammed a two-handed dunk with 43 seconds left, the outcome was basically decided.

Smart had missed 19 games dating back to Jan. 30 with a strained left calf. He played 21 minutes after Boston coach Brad Stevens said before the game that the guard would be limited to 20-22.

How did the Celtics settle upon that time frame? “What I do is I get told and I follow instructions,” Stevens deadpanned. “It’s a lot like being married, right? My wife tells me what to do and I do what she says. That’s pretty much how this all works with the minute restrictions.”

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Celtics will go as far as Brown and Tatum carry them

A few weeks before the NBA postponed its season in March, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum dropped 41 points at Staples Center in a last-possession loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

After the game, LeBron James awarded the NBA’s ultimate seal of approval when he posted on Instagram a shot of himself and Tatum, with each looking intently at the court as they waited to check in to the nationally televised matchup.

“That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!! Keep going,” James wrote as the caption, adding the hashtag, “#YoungKing.”

Although any narrow loss is dispiriting, a further signal that Tatum is poised to be one of the preeminent stars of his generation is happy compensation. Nearly six months later, the Absolute Problem leads a team that is once again in the Eastern Conference mix, as the Celtics have continued their forward momentum since breaking ground on their rebuild in 2013.

They’re on their third All-Star point guard in that span, steady veteran Kemba Walker, but they have a largely young roster without the age and experience of Milwaukee or Toronto.

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The Celtics are still developing, still refining their roles in an evolving offense and, in the occasions of their pair of dynamic wings, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, still learning which tools to leave in the toolbox.

They’re rounding into form, and Tatum might find himself on an All-NBA team as soon as this summer.

The extent to which the team can accelerate that growth will likely determine the Celtics’ postseason fortunes.

Now 2-2 in the Orlando, Florida, bubble after a 149-115 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics have established over the course of the season that they do a lot of things well — not surprising for a team that ranks in the top five in offense and defense.

As with any squad, there are natural tension points. This is a good thing because team-building and improvement — both individual and team — are accomplished in large part by problem-solving.

The Celtics’ uneven performance during the first week of the bubble is of limited concern. Walker continues to work his way back from a knee injury — he sat out Wednesday night’s back-to-back — and Stevens emphasized after Tuesday’s loss that the careful management of Walker’s minutes in Orlando is a reflection more of caution than concern.

The front office’s objective in accumulating a trove of draft picks over the course of their rebuild was always simple, even if their procurement was complex: Turn those assets into championship-caliber stars. With Tatum and Brown, the Celtics are making good on that goal. The summer of 2020 will be the biggest test yet.

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