Saturday, March 18, 2023

Celtics 126, Trail Blazers 112: Jayson Tatum scores 34 to withstand late Portland rally

The Celtics looked like they would surrender another double-digit lead late in their 126-112 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center Friday night.

Six players finished in double-figure scoring for Boston, including Jayson Tatum with 34 points -- despite going 8-of-20 from the field and 2-of-11 from deep -- he hit 16-of-18 from the free throw line and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown had 27 points on 12-of-23 from the floor, Marcus Smart added 15 points, six assists while Al Horford recorded 12 points (3-of-4 from 3-point range) and 10 assists to help improve the Celtics to 49-22 on the season -- 1.5 games behind the East leading Milwaukee Bucks (50-20) and one ahead of the third place Philadelphia 76ers (47-22).
"This is the time of year where teams, you know, you can't wait until the next step," Horford said in his postgame presser. "But you have to play these games. You have to. We need to continue to play good basketball and get better."
Boston was without Robert Williams (left hamstring sprain) for the seventh consecutive game, Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles soreness) and Payton Pritchard (left heel pain).

Damian Lillard had a game-high 41 points on 12-of-23 from the field and 11-of-14 from the free throw line to lead Portland -- who were without Jerami Grant (non-COVID illness). Anfernee Simmons netted 17 and Trendon Watford chipped on 10 points, eight rebounds, eight assists for the Trail Blazers -- fell to 31-39 and are on a five-game skid, which began with a 115-93 loss in Boston less than 10 days ago.

The Celtics were in control for nearly the entire night, grabbing a 63-48 advantage at break, before using a 16-9 spurt to open the third quarter that eventually turned into a 21-point lead (their largest margin) late in the period.

Luke Kornet (11 points, five rebounds) made it 94-74 on a jumper in the paint with 10:34 left to play. Portland would go on a 29-17, including 18 straight points by Lillard to get within eight (111-103) with 3:11 remaining. But the C's responded with two made free throws by Derrick White (13 points), a dunk by Brown and a dagger 3-pointer by Horford to push the lead back to 118-105.

It became a contest at the free throw line between both teams down the stretch, as Boston held on by outscoring the Trail Blazers 8-7 in the final 1:33, despite a total of 24 points from Lillard in the fourth quarter alone.
"The game is never going to be perfect," said Tatum during his postgame comments. "It's the NBA, they're going to make shots, make runs. I tell you guys all time, it's how you respond."
The Celtics are 3-1 on their road trip so far, as they head to Utah to face the Jazz (33-36) on a second night of a back-to-back Saturday.

Game Notes:

Boston hit 47.1% from the field, including 15-of-42 (35.7%) from behind the arc, while the Trail Blazers were 48.1% from the floor and 14-of-38 (36.8%) from long distance. The Celtics out-rebounded Portland 52-37 and outscored them in the paint 50-38. The C's dished out 29 assists (18 turnovers) on 41 baskets and the Blazers had 20 dimes (19 turnovers) on 38 made shots.

Marcus Smart finished with a game-high four of Boston's 12 total steals, surpassing 900 career steals and climbing up to fourth on the all-time franchise's steals list.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of The Associated Press

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