The 2020-21 season was the worst of the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown era. The season was filled with injuries and missed time due to COVID-19 protocols. However, the Celtics managed to find their way into the postseason, and they were set to face the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets had a superteam of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
One memorable moment from the 2020-21 season was Game 3 against the Nets in the first round. The game featured Jayson Tatum scoring a playoff career-high (at the time) 50 points and giving the Celtics a thrilling win. We at the Houdini thought we would highlight this iconic performance from Tatum.
The Celtics ultimately won 125-119 to cut the Nets series lead to 2-1. The game would be the only win the Celtics had in the series.
Some background heading into the game is that the Celtics had been dealing with injuries and unfortunate circumstances all season. The Celtics barely scraped past the play-in game against the Washington Wizards, and they needed 50 points from Tatum to move on. In the series against the Nets, the Celtics were playing without Jaylen Brown, and they did not have a great supporting cast around Tatum.
The lack of a great supporting cast is what makes Tatum’s Game 3 performance so impressive because he was going up against a super team. Tatum helped the Celtics overcome an early 15-point deficit, and he battled Harden in the process. Harden finished with 41 points, but Tatum got the last laugh in the game.
Now let’s dive into the main categories of our rewatch series.
Biggest moment of the game: Jayson Tatum’s dagger shot
With a little under a minute to go in the game and the Celtics leading by five, Tatum delivered the dagger shot. Tatum was being guarded by Kevin Durant and he utilized an excellent crossover before drilling a clutch shot. Mike Breen preceded to say, “50 points for Jayson Tatum.”
The shot is iconic for Tatum because it was a perfect cap to an iconic performance, and he did it against Durant. This would be the start of a run of dominance for Tatum over Durant.
Star of the game: Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum is the star of this game, and it was an underrated short postseason for him. Tatum’s Game 3 performance highlights how good he was in the 2021 playoffs. The fact that Tatum played in six playoff games in 2021 (counting the play-in game) and had two 50-point games is absurd.
In the playoffs, Tatum also averaged 30.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game, which is impressive for a player in his fourth season. The performance was a sign of what was to come the following season, which was a memorable run to the NBA Finals.
Biggest winners of the game: Jayson Tatum/Tristan Thompson/Marcus Smart
Besides Tatum, Tristan Thompson and Marcus Smart had excellent games for the Celtics. Thompson, who was a good signing by the Celtics in 2021, had 19 points and 13 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds. Thompson was excellent in this game, and he created a lot of extra possessions.
Marcus Smart was also great for the Celtics in this game, as he had 23 points and six assists. Smart was also 5-8 from three-point range, and he made clutch shots in the second half.
Biggest losers of the game: James Harden and Kemba Walker
James Harden is a loser in this game because he falls into a category that you never want to be in, which is a great playoff performance that is trumped by a loss. Harden’s 41 points were simply overshadowed by Tatum’s 50 points and the victory.
Kemba Walker was a loser for the Celtics as he had six points on 3-14 shooting from the field and 0-7 from three. Walker was bad for the Celtics in this postseason, and it led to him being traded in the offseason.
Impact of the game
The impact of this game is that it was the only bright spot for the Celtics in 2021. The Celtics would go on to lose the next two games to the Nets, and they would not recover until the midway point of the following season when they finally turned it around. It also led to the Celtics matching up with the Nets again the following year, except the seeds were reversed, and the C’s swept the Nets.