In the second game of the NBA’s play-in tournament, the No. 7 Boston Celtics took on the No. 8 Washington Wizards in order to determine which team would face the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs and which team would meet the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night to determine the No. 8 seed in the East.
While the Wizards held a halftime lead, Jayson Tatum exploded in the third quarter for 23 of his 50 points to help the Celtics open up a lead against Washington that they would never give up. In the end, the Celtics came away with a 118-100 win.
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Now, Boston will set their sights on Brooklyn while Washington has to quickly turn their attention to what Indiana can bring to the table following their blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets earlier Tuesday night. We’ll find out soon enough who the final team in the Eastern Conference playoffs will be but the Celtics don’t have to worry about their positioning after tonight’s win.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Tatum goes off
This has been a difficult season for the Celtics with their constant stream of injuries and absences, and Tatum’s struggles are a notable part of that. He missed over two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, and since he’s come back he’s had to use an inhaler and still struggles breathing at times.
But while there have been some rough moments and games from him over the last few months, we’ve also seen him put together some of the best performances of his career. He had 53 against the Timberwolves, 44 against the Warriors in a showdown with Steph Curry, and of course a career-high 60 points in that epic comeback over the Spurs. Now, you can add Tuesday night to the list.
Simply put, Tatum was unbelievable. He finished with 50 points — his third 50-point game of the season — eight rebounds and four assists. His huge third quarter, in which he put up 23 points and nearly outscored the Wizards (26) by himself was a real statement and the key turning point of the game. The Celtics went into the break trailing by two, and ended the third quarter up by 10. From there, they largely coasted to victory.
One major reason for Tatum’s success against the Wizards is that he made a point to put his head down and get into the paint. Not only did he finish a number of easy looks at the rim, but he got the Wizards in foul trouble and was a perfect 17-of-17 from the free throw line for a new career-high from there.
2. Celtics dominate the third quarter
The first half of this game was fairly even, as the Celtics jumped ahead early, but the Wizards battled back to take control in the second quarter. At the break, the Wizards were up 54-52, and it looked like we could be in for a really fun and competitive finish. The Celtics had other plans.
Tatum started the half with an and-one and Walker followed with three straight 3-pointers to put the Celtics in front. Then it was Tatum’s turn again, he added a jumper and a 3-pointer to force a Wizards timeout. All of that happened in the first 3:51 of the third quarter, and before the Wizards even knew what was going on, the Celtics had built a 69-56 lead.
That run, and the third quarter in general, was pretty much the game. The Celtics went 12-of-23 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the frame and outscored the Wizards 38-26. To their credit, the Wizards hung around for a while, and got the deficit to single digits a few times, but they were never able to recover.
3. Wizards have a bad night, but still alive
This was not a good night for the Wizards. Beal was out there battling, but he was clearly not 100 percent and had a lot of trouble on both ends. He got to 22 points eventually, but needed 25 shots to do it, and had trouble guarding Tatum on defense. Westbrook, meanwhile, had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, but shot 6-of-18 and turned it over four times. Even worse, as a team, the Wizards shot 3-of-21 from 3-point land.
The good news for them is that they’re still alive. Thanks to their incredible run toward the end of the regular season, the Wizards didn’t just get into the play-in tournament, they finished eighth in the Eastern Conference and earned the protection of double-elimination.
As a result, they haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention just yet. They’ll now face the Pacers on Thursday night in the final round of the play-in tournament, with the winner of that game getting the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and a first-round matchup with the Sixers. While the Pacers looked incredible in their destruction of the Hornets, they have all sorts of injury problems themselves and that’s absolutely a winnable game for the Wizards.