Irving-Tatum Tandem Leads C’s to Fourth-Quarter, Game 2 Comeback
BOSTON – As the game clock winds down, the pressure on Kyrie Irving builds up. He’s the guy who everyone turns their attention to when a game is on the line with the expectation that he’ll deliver the goods for the Boston Celtics.
It’s a large burden for one man to handle, but fortunately Irving doesn’t have to carry all of it by himself. That’s because right beside him, there’s another Celtic who has ice in his veins named Jayson Tatum.
As Boston fought back from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit Wednesday night during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, it unleashed the unstoppable Irving-Tatum tandem. Irving scored nine of his game-high 37 points during that quarter, while Tatum produced 10 of his 26. Together, they combined for 19 of the Celtics’ 31 points during the final frame, as they helped spark a 99-91 comeback win at TD Garden, where it captured a 2-0 series lead.
“We did enough to win,” Irving said while sitting at a podium after the game. “We made some big time plays on the defensive end, getting some defensive rebounds, making them miss, and just staying aggressive and staying poised down the stretch. I think we utilized some of our go-to plays down the stretch, who we wanted to attack, and we executed very well where guys are not necessarily depending on taking those midrange shots, but attacking the basket, and trying to make plays within the play and it worked well for us. JT made some shots and I made some shots, as well, and we paced ourselves pretty well.”
Irving was the main catalyst in Boston’s 16-0 run that spanned over half of the final frame, at one point scoring eight straight points for the C’s. Then Tatum set off the fireworks in the end with a trio of clutch plays during the final 50 seconds of action. Over a three-possession span, the 21-year-old wing hit a go-ahead 3-pointer, assisted on a Gordon Hayward lay-up, and then hammered the nail in the coffin with an and-one dunk.
“That’s what makes them tough, the fact that they have a number of guys out there that can get going,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “It was Morris last game. Tatum is very capable. Hayward is capable. Horford is capable. All those guys are capable.”
Tatum proved his capability during last year’s Playoffs when he was asked to step up in the absence of an injured Irving. He ended up averaging 18.5 points per game over 19 contests, while writing his name all over the rookie postseason record books.
Through the first two games of this postseason, albeit a small sample size it appears as though Playoff-Tatum is back. He has averaged 20.5 PPG so far, while shooting 54.8 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from 3-point range and 100 percent from the free-throw line.
“I just get really excited,” Tatum said of locking in during the Playoffs. “This is the best time of year in basketball and it’s the most important time of the year, so you’ve got to try to be your best, be aggressive, because every game really counts.”
So far, the Celtics are 2-0 in those games that count. Now Irving (28.5 PPG) and Tatum will lead the Celtics to Indianapolis, where the tandem hopes to continue its dominant ways and place the C's in position to advance to the next round.