The Boston Celtics were one of the NBA’s worst teams over the final month of the regular season, but thanks to Jayson Tatum — who scored 32 of his 50 points in the second half on Tuesday as the Celtics rallied to beat the Washington Wizards 118-100 in the play-in round — they still have a chance to make a playoff run.
Kemba Walker added 29 points for Boston, who secured the seventh seed for the playoffs and a first-round matchup with the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets, with Game 1 scheduled for Saturday.
Tatum has drawn criticism at times for his quiet leadership style.
Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY
He said that Tuesday’s performance was how he wants to lead.
“I know that my teammates, I’ve earned their respect. I’ve earned the respect of the guys I play against,” he said. “I believe in myself. That’s all that matters.”
The Celtics struggled down the stretch, dropping 10 of their final 15 games of the season.
Coach Brad Stevens said that having to respond was in line with a season in which they had to fight through multiple players being unavailable because of injuries, and stints in the league’s health and safety protocols.
“We’ve been through a lot, so we’re hardened in a lot of ways,” Stevens said. “We’ve been backs against the wall for most of the year... It takes a lot of togetherness and it takes staying together through tough times.”
Washington host the Indiana Pacers, who rolled over the Charlotte Hornets in Tuesday’s other play-in game for the eighth seed today.
The winners of that game are to play face the Philadelphia 76ers, the top seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Bradley Beal scored 22 points for the Wizards. Russell Westbrook added 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Ish Smith had 17 points.
However, the Wizards struggled from deep all night long, going three for 21 from beyond the three-point line.
“We couldn’t find it. We couldn’t find the basket,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We haven’t shot well all year long, but we’re not a three-for-21 shooting team.”
The Celtics played without second-leading scorer Jaylen Brown, who had season-ending wrist surgery last week. He sat courtside to support his teammates, but they missed his offensive production in the first half while they struggled to get into a flow.
That changed in the third quarter. Boston opened the second half on a 22-4 run, opening a 74-58 lead.
Boston followed Tatum’s lead. The All-Star forward created space for open jumpers and drew contact in the lane. He was 17 of 17 from the free-throw line.
Washington made the score 91-84 in the fourth quarter, but Boston responded with a 15-6 run to push the lead to 106-88 with 5 minutes, 32 seconds to play.
“We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Westbrook said.
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