With the Prince and Princess of Wales watching from courtside seats, Jayson Tatum was the king of the court for the Celtics on Wednesday night. The All-Star forward poured in 49 points to lead Boston’s 134-121 win over the Heat, their 14th in 15 games.
It was another powerful performance by one of the most dominant offenses in NBA history. The Celtics started the game by making seven shots in a row and hardly cooled after that. They shot 55.4 percent from the field, 48.9 percent from the 3-point line, and 20 of 23 at the free-throw line.
It was all ignited by Tatum, who made 15 of 25 shots and 8 of 12 3-pointers. He blew his trademark kisses after jumpers and walked into the crowd and flexed after being fouled on three-point plays, as he continues to build up his MVP portfolio.
“I think he manages the team concept by continuing to play the right way,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “So, he’s getting catch-and-shoot shots, he’s screening, he’s running the floor in transition, he’s getting to the free throw line. The fact is his game is versatile. A lot of the stuff he does opens plays for others as well.”
Max Strus and Bam Adebayo had 23 points apiece for the Heat, who were without star forward Jimmy Butler.
Miami pushed back from an early double-digit deficit and countered Boston’s hot shooting with its own, and a three-point play by Kyle Lowry pulled it within 116-113 midway through the fourth quarter. But Tatum returned soon after that and helped clinch the win with consecutive 3-pointers.
“It’s all about just making the right play,” he said. “When you’re open, shoot it. And the right play can be different from time to time.”
The only suspense at game’s end was whether Tatum would reach 50 points. He missed a late layup and 3-pointer that would have helped. Then Adebayo got a pair of technical fouls in the final minute, and Tatum took both free throws to put him at 49. But with the win in hand, the Celtics let the shot-clock run out.
These teams will meet again at TD Garden on Friday night.
Observations from the game:
⋅ Much like he did after the Celtics’ romp over the Hornets on Monday, Mazzulla shifted the focus afterward to where his team must still improve. In this game, he wasn’t pleased about allowing 121 points on 52.2 percent shooting.
“We’ve got a lot to work on,” he said. “I’d say there are 35 points that we can control that we have to take away. I’d say there’s about 40 or 50 points that you’re willing to live with that they executed. The rest you have to do a better job on the physicality, or the staff has to do a better job with adjustments.”
⋅ The Celtics’ offense has been great all season, but the team has really set the tone with some scorching starts. On Wednesday, Tatum threw down a dunk on Boston’s opening possession before converting a four-point play on the next one. That was part of an explosive opening in which the Celtics connected on their first seven shots, including five 3-pointers. The success beyond the arc has certainly been boosted by good spacing and ball movement, but at some point it will likely level out a bit.
⋅ Tatum’s excellent start has hidden his lukewarm long-range shooting a bit. He entered Wednesday’s game hitting 34.7 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, a career low. He tends to let one miss bleed into more, so the early success was helpful. He was 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first three quarters.
⋅ The Heat actually wiped away the Celtics’ 14-point first-quarter lead pretty quickly and led themselves, 47-44, early in the second quarter. But the Celtics have done a good job stopping opponents’ runs from snowballing. In this case they bounced back with a 12-0 burst keyed by Tatum. They never trailed again.
“I think we’ve done a good job of creating a style of play that fits around everybody,” forward Jaylen Brown said. “Being able to score the ball, being able to drive, being able to create those advantages, and then shoot. A lot of the shots that we get are open. So we’ve got to keep playing that style of ball because it’s working for us.”
⋅ Even when things went poorly for Tatum, he found a way to make them right. Late in the third quarter he had the ball ripped away as he prepared to drive, and three Miami players were in the vicinity to recover it. But Tatum ended up on the floor before ripping it away from all of them and finding Derrick White for a dunk.
Earlier in the quarter, the Heat appeared to have the most direct line to a loose ball before Grant Williams dove onto the floor to retrieve it. The ball ended up with Tatum, who hit a 3-pointer. These simple hustle plays are enough to swing things in a close game, and the Celtics continue to make them.