The Boston Celtics held off the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night to earn their third consecutive victory.
With help from a 20-0 run in the second quarter, the C's improved to 7-3 on the season. Jayson Tatum (39 points) accounted for 10 of the points on that run and notched 25 in the first half. Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant (30 points) countered with 14 of his own in the third quarter to help Memphis regain the lead heading into the fourth, but Boston managed to escape with a hard-fought 109-106 win.
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The Celtics will return home to face the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night. Here are three takeaways from Monday's triumph.
Another passing clinic from Marcus Smart
Tatum did his usual damage in the scoring column, but Smart may have been the best player on the floor Monday night in Memphis.
Smart started off hot with 10 points and four assists in the first quarter. Between his scoring and his passing, the veteran point guard played a role in the Celtics' first 16 points of the game.
His stellar playmaking was on display for the rest of the game as he finished with 12 assists. That's now 23 assists -- the most he has ever had in a two-game span -- to only three turnovers over his last two games.
It also was Smart's second straight game with a double-double as he ended up with 15 points in the win.
Boston's offense fired on all cylinders for most of the game, and Smart was at the center of it all. He has become much more than a defensive-minded guard since assuming a starting role last season.
Jayson Tatum has unlocked a new level
Tatum said last month he would trade individual accolades for Banner 18, but the Celtics star is playing at an MVP level through the first 10 games of the campaign.
The 39-point performance comes as no surprise. Rather, it's how he got to that number. In past seasons his scoring outbursts have largely been a result of getting hot from beyond the arc, but there has been a noticeable difference in his approach this year.
Tatum is making a concerted effort to get to the free-throw line. The 24-year-old is averaging a career-high in free-throw attempts per game after going 12-or-16 from the charity stripe on Monday night. He set a career-high with 20 free-throw attempts two games ago.
With those additional opportunities to put points on the board, it's no surprise Tatum has tallied the most points in C's history through the first 10 games of a season.
The fact Tatum can shoot just 3-for-11 from 3-point range and still drop 39 should terrify the rest of the NBA. If he can continue to do damage in the paint, we can expect him to be firmly in the MVP conversation come next summer.
Ja Morant does Ja Morant things
This was a tremendous duel between two superstars in Tatum and Morant. While Tatum emerged as the victor, Morant's spectacular showing shouldn't be ignored.
Morant helped the Grizzlies back into the game with a 14-point third quarter. Memphis went on a 15-2 run to steal the lead heading into the fourth.
Although his team failed to hold on, Morant did his part on both ends of the floor. The No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft led his team with 30 points on 10-of-24 shooting (5-12 3-PT) and showed off his elite athleticism in the process.
Morant added nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and this electrifying block for good measure.
He could be right there with Tatum in the MVP race when all is said and done.