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Celtics 116, Trail Blazers 115

‘I just like the way that we’re playing’: Jayson Tatum keeps Celtics rolling in late-night win over Trail Blazers

Jayson Tatum throws down 2 of his game-high 32 points in the Celtics' road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.Steve Dykes/Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Jayson Tatum knew he had to match the Portland duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum down the stretch. They were cutting the Celtics deep with 3-pointers and Boston had one final key possession to stave off a Blazers rally.

Tatum was selective with his 3-point attempts all night, mostly attacking the basket for his first 29 points. This time, however, Tatum relied on his long-range prowess to stomp out Portland for good. That same late-game stepback 3-pointer that has been so uneven over the past few years was true this time.

You could almost hear Tatum say, “swish” as the ball trickled through the net and gave the suddenly resurgent Celtics a critical 116-115 win over the Blazers on Tuesday at Moda Center.

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The Celtics have now won four in a row and two difficult road games on their three-game trip with one more — against the shorthanded Lakers — on Thursday.

“I just like the way that we’re playing,” Tatum said. “Every game is important right now. Obviously, we want to win, but I think for myself playing the right way and feeling good about ourselves [is important]. We’re not going to win every game, but we’re for sure trending in the right direction.”

Boston played strong defense and relied on Tatum and Kemba Walker to jump out to a 107-99 lead with 5:04 minutes left.

Portland responded with a 13-4 run over the next four minutes to take the 112-111 lead, with Lillard and McCollum combining for three 3-pointers. Tatum responded with his two free throws and then that sealing three as Boston continued its late-season surge.

Tatum finished with 32 points on 10-for-17 shooting while Jaylen Brown added 24 on 9 for 21. The Celtics actually limited the duo of McCollum and Lillard to a combined 15-for-42 shooting, but each hit key shots in the final minutes to push the Celtics to the brink.

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Carmelo Anthony kept the Blazers close in the fourth quarter, and he finished with 25 points in just 28 minutes. He hit consecutive jumpers to slice the Celtics lead to 99-96 before Boston responded with an 8-3 run for an 8-point lead with 5:04 minutes left.

Then things got interesting until Tatum’s heroics. He now has 113 points in his past three games on 35-for-65 shooting.

“Tatum has done that for this stretch and this was about the number of games where last year he started taking off,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You can see that in the last so many weeks. He’s really into a rhythm in knowing what he wants to do on a given possession and where his opportunities are going to come from.”

Observations from Tuesday’s game:

▪ Tatum has been accused of falling in love with the 3-point shot, but he focused on attacking the basket Tuesday, playing his first 25 minutes with just three 3-point attempts. Attacking the basket and passing on threes did not affect his scoring output. He scored 17 points in the third period and 24 through three quarters on just 13 shots.

▪ Marcus Smart ensured the Blazers would not have a high-percentage winning shot attempt by intentionally missing his second free throw with the Celtics up 1 with 3.5 seconds left. Smart’s miss bounced to Lillard who had to settle for a baseball-like heave from 70 feet. The Blazers were out of timeouts.

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▪ Tatum attacking the basket will bring on potential for more injury and he appeared to step on Lillard’s foot toward a breakaway drive to the basket and both All-Stars came out hobbling late in the third period. Tatum stayed on the floor for a few moments favoring his right leg. He remained in the game and drained both free throws.

“Yeah I was put in that similar spot and I hit nothing but the backboard,” Smart said. “I just wanted to make sure it hit the rim, and it bounced the way we needed it to.”

▪ Tatum attacking the basket will bring on the potential for more injury, and he appeared to step on Lillard’s foot toward a breakaway drive to the basket and both All-Stars came out hobbling late in the third period. Tatum stayed on the floor for a few moments favoring his right leg. He remained in the game and drained both free throws

▪ It was Payton Pritchard’s first game back in his home state since joining the NBA, but with no fans at Moda Center, he was reduced to hearing a virtual crowd cheer when he entered and one loud boo from one of the Blazers family and friends section.

▪ The Celtics are so much better on the offensive when Kemba Walker is playing with zip and attacking the defense. On several occasions in the first half, Walker pushed the pace, got into the paint, and was able to score or pass to a teammate. Scoring against defenses that aren’t set is the ultimate goal for the Celtics. Walker finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.

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▪ The Celtics are hitting the boards of late with Tristan Thompson, Tatum, and Walker combined for 18 of the team’s 27 rebounds at halftime. The surprise here is Walker, who was active on defense and chasing down missed shots to start the fastbreak.

▪ The Blazers have so many scoring weapons, and that includes former Toronto Raptor Norman Powell, who finished with 20 points. Anthony reverted back to his Denver days with his 25 points, mostly on an array of turnaround jumpers.

▪ Stevens is definitely comfortable using second-year swingman Romeo Langford for his defensive prowess, and it’s paying off. Despite picking up two early fouls, Langford remained aggressive and was able to draw a charge on Robert Covington as well as limit Anthony on his touches.

▪ Portland big man Jusuf Nurkić caused problems for Robert Williams because of his physicality and the Blazers went to him when they needed buckets. Williams just doesn’t have the size to contain burly centers like Nurkić, who was also an impact on defense. Nurkić finished a plus-19 compared with a minus-18 for backup Enes Kanter.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.