It’s awards season at Celtics.com! We’re handing out six awards throughout mid-October as we roll through this year’s Celtics.com Awards Series. We may not have trophies or acceptance speeches, but we do have some top-flight Celtics performances to outline. Here we go...
The Boston Celtics delivered plenty of outstanding team performances throughout the 2019-20 Season, which means we had a magnitude of options to choose from for our Game of the Year Award.
There was the 19-point comeback victory against the reigning and eventual back-to-back regular-season champion Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 30, which produced the iconic torch-passing image of Paul Pierce high-fiving Jayson Tatum during a classic clutch performance. Then, there was the 139-107 blowout of the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 20, highlighted by Jaylen Brown’s monster dunk over LeBron James during the second half. There were also three exhilarating regular-season wins over the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, including the nail-biting home-opener, the Christmas Day domination and the seeding game blowout, all of which could have qualified for this recognition.
However, the game that truly stood high above all others was Boston’s 141-133 double-overtime win over the star-studded LA Clippers on Feb. 13, during which Jayson Tatum delivered what was perhaps the most impressive performance of his young career to date.
The two teams met on a nationally-televised stage at TD Garden for the final NBA game before the All-Star break and they delivered an All-Star-Game-level offensive performance, only with far more drama and tenacity.
Boston and LA traded punches for the entirety of the matchup, with only one occurrence of a double-digit lead when the Celtics went up 72-62 with 8:51 left in the third quarter. LA, however, would come back to tie or take the lead seven separate times after that point, leading to an exhilarating finish.
The game was tied up at 109 apiece with a little under three minutes remaining when Jayson Tatum began to take control of the contest. He scored 15 of his game-high 39 points during the game’s final 12-and-a-half minutes, starting with a tie-breaking 3-pointer at the 2:28 mark of the fourth quarter. He then knocked down a mid-range jumper 58 seconds later to give Boston a 114-111 lead. however, his former mentor, Marcus Morris, responded with a game-tying 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Morris again came up big midway through the first overtime period when he knocked down his second 3-pointer of the night to give the Clippers a 122-118 lead. But then the Marcus on the other side of the ball – Marcus Smart – responded by scoring five straight points for the Celtics.
With just under a minute to go in the first extra period and the Celtics trailing 124-123, Tatum made one of his biggest buckets of the night when he spun around both Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell on a driving layup to give the Celtics a one-point lead. The All-Star wing then tripled that lead with 24.8 seconds remaining when he drove past two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard for a layup. But Shamet responded with a game-tying 3-pointer on the Clippers' final possession of the period to send the game into another overtime.
By this point, the Clippers, who had already lost All-Star Paul George in the first half to an injury, had barely any gas left in the tank, as Boston outscored them 14-6 during the second extra period. Tatum made only one basket during the final five-minute stretch, but it was the most impressive of his 14 makes on the night, as he hit Shamet with a double-crossover and a hesi, before driving past him for a layup that gave Boston a 134-130 lead.
That wound up being the winning bucket, as the Celtics went on to win 141-133, marking their highest point total in a game since scoring 150 points against Washington on Nov. 25, 1992. All but 19 of those 141 points were scored by Boston’s starters, with 39 from Tatum, 31 from Smart, who started in the place of injured Jaylen Brown, 21 from Gordon Hayward, 19 from Kemba Walker, and 12 from Daniel Theis, giving its starting five a massive, 122-68 advantage over LA’s starting five.
Tatum was unquestionably the hero of the night for the Celtics for reasons that went deeper than his numbers in the box score. What was most impressive about Tatum’s performance was that it came against one of the best all-around players in the world in Leonard.
Tatum, who was 21 at the time of this matchup, outscored the two-time Finals MVP 39-28, including a 17-5 advantage during the fourth quarter and overtime, while also outshooting him 60.7 percent to 37.0 percent. Leonard, the two-time DPOY, guarded Tatum on 33 partial possessions, during which Tatum remarkably didn't miss a single shot. And while Tatum defended the elite scorer on 24 partial possessions, he limited Leonard to just a 33.3 percent shooting clip.
This was just one of many outstanding efforts that Tatum produced during the month of February, during which he averaged 30.7 points per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from 3-point range, leading to his winning of Eastern Conference Player of the Month.
It also happened to be Boston’s best all-around game of the season, as Brad Stevens got the edge over his predecessor, Doc Rivers, while guiding the Celtics to their greatest offensive outing in nearly 28 years.