Boston Celtics

How Tatum ‘challenged' Celtics at halftime of Game 3 win vs. Cavs

The Celtics went on a 14-0 run to start the second half after Jayson Tatum's call-out.

NBC Universal, Inc.

After a tough Game 2 loss at home, the Boston Celtics bounced back to take Game 3 with a 106-93 victory on the road against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night, giving them a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Despite a relatively slow start in the scoring department in this year's playoffs, Jayson Tatum showed his doubters he's still fully capable of leading his team to victory, finishing the night with a team-high 33 points on 11 of 25 shooting.

But Tatum's scoring may not have been the biggest difference-maker. Instead, veteran big man Al Horford insisted that Tatum's leadership moved the needle Saturday.

"Defense was strong; JT challenged us at halftime to make sure that we were more assertive and got off to a good start in the third," Horford told NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin on what inspired Boston's 14-0 run to start the third quarter. "We did a good job and we responded."

After what Celtics Postgame Live hosts Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine called a heartless defensive performance in Game 2, Horford credited his teammates with being able to respond and fight back in Game 3. Focusing on limiting Cleveland's 3-point opportunities, Boston held the Cavaliers to a 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, down from 46.4 percent in Game 2.

Further showcasing his ability to lead his team, Tatum additionally posted team-highs in rebounds (13) and assists (six) while tying team-highs in blocks and steals with one apiece. His Game 3 performance marked his 24th career playoff game with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, tying Bill Russell, Charles Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon for 10th most all-time.

Amid concerns about Tatum's ability to lead the Celtics to a championship after his slow start to the playoffs, Horford, much like Boston's president of basketball operations Brad Stevens, said he never had any doubt that the five-time All-Star would find a way to return to greatness.

"JT is a special player," Horford told Chin of his teammate. "He always figures it out, he's the last guy I worry about. He's going to be fine -- he's been doing this for a long time now."

Outside of the 2021 season where the Celtics lost in the first round, Tatum has led Boston to at least the Eastern Conference semifinals every single year, giving him more playoff experience than most across the league at just 26 years old.

Head coach Joe Mazzulla joined in on giving praise for Tatum's performance in Saturday night's win, saying that the former third overall pick is underappreciated.

"It just says he's a really great player that gets taken advantage of," Mazzulla told the media of Tatum's bounce-back night. "He's been really good for a long time -- [he's] underappreciated."

With Kristaps Porzingis still sidelined with a right calf injury, Horford has done well in his expanded role. Outside of scoring -- he finished just 1-7 for two points -- the 37-year-old pulled in seven rebounds and logged two assists.

The Celtics will look to carry their momentum into Monday night as they remain on the road for Game 4 against the Cavaliers. NBC Sports Boston's Celtics Pregame Live coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with tip-off at 7 p.m.

Contact Us