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Trail Blazers 109, Celtics 105

Jayson Tatum’s 3-point shooting woes continue as Celtics come up short against Trail Blazers

Jayson Tatum (center), flanked by Robert Williams (left) and Jaylen Brown, was 0 for 6 on 3-pointers Friday night.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Jayson Tatum is accustomed to seeing his 3-pointers slide through the net, so the past few games have been weird and frustrating and puzzling for him. But he had a chance in the final seconds of the Celtics’ game against the Trail Blazers on Friday to snap out of his slump in a loud, emphatic way.

Boston trailed by 1 when Tatum sized up Jusuf Nurkic at the right arc. He’d had success getting to the rim against Portland’s big man, and there was a brief moment when he appeared to have a sliver of space to do it again.

Maybe that would’ve been the best approach for a player who had missed 19 consecutive 3-pointers over the past week. But Tatum flicked the ball behind his back, stepped behind the 3-point line and fired up a shot that ultimately stretched this grisly streak of misses to 20.


Robert Williams’s tip-in attempt was off, and Portland ultimately escaped with a 109-105 win.

“Over the course of 82 games, sometimes you just miss,” Tatum said. “But you put in too much work to doubt yourself.”

In fairness to Tatum, the game probably should never have reached this point. The Celtics, who received strong contributions from their bench throughout the night, took a 100-89 lead on a Grant Williams tip-in with 7 minutes, 19 seconds left.

But they did not make another shot. Over those final, fateful seven minutes, the Celtics combined to go 0 for 10 from the field with a pair of turnovers. Their only points came at the free-throw line, and that was simply not a reliable approach.

“It’s a little disappointing because we had been better in those situations execution-wise,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “And, at times, as simple as it sounds, it comes down to making some open shots. And they dared some guys to make it and took it out of [Tatum’s] hands, and we didn’t make them pay.”


With point guard Marcus Smart out for the sixth game in a row as he recovers from his battle with COVID-19, and Nurkic overpowering the Celtics inside, Udoka elected to use a bigger lineup for much of the game with Tatum serving as the primary ball-handler.

It was successful in the second quarter, as a lineup of Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Romeo Langford flipped a 15-point deficit into a 58-54 halftime lead. But the results were less encouraging in crunch time, with Boston flinging passes around the perimeter against the Blazers’ zone defense and firing up awkward attempts before the shot-clock expired.

“I think our execution wasn’t as crisp as it had been,” Udoka said.

Tatum finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, but those strong numbers will be overshadowed by his long-range woes.

“It hurts,” he said. “It bothers you, as it should. But you can’t go back in time. It’s just get back in the gym, watch some film, learn from your mistakes, and try to improve on them.”

Nurkic had 29 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Blazers, who made 16 of 33 3-pointers as a team.

The Celtics missed another chance to take advantage of a soft spot in their schedule, playing at home against a Portland team with a losing record that is missing injured superstar Damian Lillard. Boston (23-24) once again dipped below .500, and has provided little reason to believe it can push into contention in the East.


“We’ve been progressing the right way,” Udoka said, “so that’s why this one does sting more than the others.”

When backups Payton Pritchard and Romeo Langford combined to make four 3-pointers over the first four minutes of the fourth, it looked as if Boston’s reserves would provide an important boost and spark a comfortable win. But little has come comfortably for the Celtics.

After Nassir Little capped Portland’s 11-0 burst and tied the score at 100 with a dunk, Brown put Boston back in front with a pair of free throws with 41.5 seconds left. The Blazers rushed upcourt seeking a two-for-one opportunity, and Brown was caught out of position, allowing Robert Covington to hit an open 3-pointer from the left corner with 31.3 seconds left.

“That’s one that hurts,” Udoka said. “Obviously we’d like to have that one back.”

Tatum gave Boston the lead back with two free throws. After a Portland timeout, Anfernee Simons missed a runner in the lane, but Nurkic scooped up the rebound and scored, putting Portland ahead, 105-104, with 13.1 seconds to play.

Tatum bobbled the sideline inbounds pass slightly, throwing off the rhythm of the possession. But options remained. He was instructed to first look to get to the rim, and Robert Williams would be there diving to the hoop for a potential lob, with Brown on the perimeter as an escape valve. But the possession ended with Tatum’s missed 3-pointer, his 20th in a row.


Covington hit a pair of free throws to make it 107-104 with 3.5 seconds left. The Blazers intentionally fouled Tatum on the inbounds pass to stop him from firing up a 3-pointer. He made the first and intentionally missed the second, but Boston was unable to grab the rebound.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.