Things may finally be coming together for the 2020-21 Boston Celtics.
Boston extended its winning streak to four with a 116-115 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at Moda Center. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker led the way for the Celtics, who improved to 29-26 in the process.
Tatum put the visitors ahead with two free throws in the final minute then drilled a three-pointer with 8.5 seconds left to push the lead to four. Damian Lillard's full-court heave at the buzzer did not go.
Solid showings from Lillard and Carmelo Anthony were not enough for the struggling Trail Blazers, who dropped to 31-23 overall and 2-5 in their last seven games.
Notable Player Stats
- Jayson Tatum, F, BOS: 32 PTS, 9 REB, 5 AST
- Jaylen Brown, G, BOS: 24 PTS, 4 REB
- Kemba Walker, G, BOS: 21 PTS, 8 REB, 7 AST
- Damian Lillard, G, POR: 28 PTS, 10 AST, 5 REB
- Carmelo Anthony, F, POR: 25 PTS, 2 REB
- CJ McCollum, G, POR: 16 PTS, 7 REB, 5 AST
Jayson Tatum Continues Hot Streak
That the Celtics have languished around play-in tournament seeding for much of the season after making three of the past four Eastern Conference Finals has been one of the bigger surprises in the league, but Tatum has taken matters into his own hands of late.
The two-time All-Star notched a double-double in three straight games coming into Tuesday's contest, including when he exploded for 53 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Yet it was Walker, Brown and Robert Williams III who carried the offense in the early going against Portland.
Walker had 12 points in the first quarter alone and caught fire from deep while battling for boards from the backcourt. Brown remained aggressive while hitting multiple shots from the outside, and Williams flashed into space around the rim to provide some interior offense.
It was Tatum's turn after intermission.
The Duke product poured in 17 points in the third quarter to give the visitors the lead and extend his streak of games with 20 or more points to 11. Portland had no answer for his ability to rise over defenders and unleash his sweet shot, which, along with some outside shooting from Marcus Smart, put the Celtics into position to steal a road win.
Despite all of that, it appeared as if the Trail Blazers would complete the comeback with Lillard taking over. Tatum had other ideas and finished the win with his clutch free throws and cold-blooded three in the final minute.
Damian Lillard's Late Push Comes Up Short
It's not too often Lillard is under the spotlight because of offensive struggles, but that was the case entering play Tuesday.
After all, the six-time All-Star had 12 points and five turnovers in Sunday's loss to the Miami Heat and 11 points in last Tuesday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. What's more, he shot a combined 5-of-24 (20.8 percent) from the field in those two games.
He looked more like the typical version of Lillard as Portland built a halftime lead with a couple of shots from the outside and timely assists to Norman Powell beyond the arc and Jusuf Nurkic in the paint.
Anthony also provided a spark off the bench, which helped the Trail Blazers maintain their advantage even though CJ McCollum struggled from the field for stretches.
Anthony continued to play well into the second half, but Portland lost its lead heading into the fourth quarter thanks to defensive issues against a balanced Boston attack. It was more of the same for a team that has struggled on that end of the floor and started play 29th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
It is a credit to Anthony's hot shooting that the Trail Blazers were down just eight with fewer than six minutes remaining even with those defensive woes, which set up a chance for Dame Time down the stretch.
All Lillard did was make three triples and assist on two clutch shots from McCollum, including a go-ahead three, in those final six minutes. Still, it wasn't enough thanks to the late heroics of Tatum.
Both teams are on the road for their next game, with the Celtics facing the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday and the Trail Blazers playing the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.