NEW YORK — There are going to be nights, despite the offensive additions and revamped lineup with five bona fide weapons, that Jayson Tatum is going to have to save the Celtics.
Fully aware he was near a career milestone and the Celtics needing second-half scoring to fight off the relentless Brooklyn Nets, Tatum took over in key stretches of the fourth quarter, scoring consecutive buckets to give Boston breathing room as it remained undefeated with a 124-114 win Saturday at Barclays Center.
Tatum became the youngest Celtics player to reach 10,000 points when he completed a 3-point play in the first half, giving him 16 points. The seventh-year player finished with 32 points, including six 3-pointers, and 11 rebounds.
Jrue Holiday added 18 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists as Boston (5-0) remained the league’s only undefeated team. Kristaps Porzingis added 22 points and seven rebounds. Jaylen Brown struggled most of the night but rallied for some late buckets and tallied 23.
The Nets, filled with a bunch of castoffs from other clubs, pushed the Celtics deep into the fourth quarter with their frantic pace and 3-point shooting. Cam Thomas led Brooklyn (3-3) with 27 points but the Celtics were able to get some key defensive stops down the stretch, pulling away after the Nets clawed to within 99-97 with 7 minutes, 13 seconds left.
After Luke Kornet scored a layup, Tatum followed with a pair of buckets, including muscling to the hoop for a tough layup. Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn thought Tatum pushed off on the drive and was called for the technical. The Celtics were up 11 after the barrage and were never threatened again.
Tatum hugged his mother and grandmother after the game, and walked off the Barclay Center floor with a horde of Celtics fans cheering in glee. He’s just beginning his seventh season, but he’s only 25 so he said career accomplishments are still hard to digest.
“It’s kind of hard to process,” he said of 10,000 points. “It’s a huge accomplishment. I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such a great franchise and I’ve just been fortunate to be on some really good teams, having some really, really good coaches and have great teammates to help contribute to 10,000 points along the way.”
Tatum reached the mark in his 444th game and is already 14th all-time in Celtics scoring. On this reshaped Celtics roster, Tatum has more offensive support. Porzingis can score with ease at the rim. Holiday can drain jumpers and Brown can knock down threes and attack the rim.
But on Saturday, the Celtics needed scoring Tatum. They needed buckets in the waning moments to finally stave off their shorthanded opponent. They relied on their leader.
“He shows up to work every single day,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He dedicates his life to it. He doesn’t miss days. … And just his open-mindedness in wanting to be coached, [wanting] to be held to a high standard. When you have guys like that to coach, you see what you get out of him. He’s one of the guys that sets the tone for us and because he’s willing to be pushed to the ultimate level, it allows us to do that to everybody.”
The pesky Nets didn’t relent after the Celtics took control in the first half. They began the third period with three 3-pointers in the first two minutes to slice a 12-point deficit to 3 and the Celtics couldn’t pull away for the remainder of the night.
After averaging 26.3 points in his previous three games, Brown struggled from the field, missing 15 of 22 shots and 1 for 8 in the third period. The Celtics offense began sputtering, allowing the Nets to rally to cut their lead to 91-88.
Tatum, who scored 21 in the first half, managed 2 points in the period. And Boston had trouble corralling bowling-ball guard Thomas, who constantly worked his way into his scoring spots, and led Brooklyn with 22 points entering the fourth quarter. Spencer Dinwiddie, who had been hard on the Celtics in recent years, added 17, including a pair of threes in that third quarter run.
The Nets matched the Celtics basket for basket into the early second period, even taking a 41-36 lead following a 3-pointer from Dorian Finney-Smith, but the Celtics took Brooklyn’s shot and responded with haymakers of their own.
The league’s No. 1 scoring team scored 34 points in the final 9 minutes, 15 seconds of the period, led by Tatum, who entered Saturday 16 points from the 10,000 mark for his career. The run began with two layups from Kornet, who slid into the backup center role with Al Horford in the starting lineup.
Tatum scored 13 points in a 34-17 half-ending run, including a contested layup and free throw for his 10,000th point. He added a pair of free throws and then a swished 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 70-58 Celtics lead.
The Nets ran out of artillery in the second period, missing 17 of 24 shots. They were able to stay close by getting to the free throw line, including six attempts from backup center Day’Ron Sharpe. Holiday has taken a back seat offensively since joining the Celtics but he responded with his best offensive half of the season with 10 points along with 4 assists and 5 rebounds.
He also followed with a pair of big threes in the second half.