Jayson Tatum Heats Up and Xavier Tillman Debuts as Celtics Down Mavericks

BOSTON — The Mavericks held Jayson Tatum to three shots and two points through the midway point of the second quarter. He made the right plays again, as Kristaps Porzingis navigated Dallas’ veers against his screens and Boston started 7-for-10 from three to maintain a lead against what became a relentless Mavericks rally. Joe Mazzulla called timeout at the seven-minute mark after Dallas pulled within six, Luka Doncic scoring 20 points in 13 minutes, and while the read probably dictated it — the ball went to Tatum.

“It wasn’t necessarily adjusting, it was allowing the game to play out,” Mazzulla said. “It’s a credit to his trust, his patience, his understanding. He usually comes out at the seven-minute mark … I loved every single shot that we took and I thought we were getting good looks … once the game slowed down and lost its rhythm, we went straight to him to get us to do something different … I don’t consider it a slow start, I consider it a team start. If you go back and watch the shot selection … labelling it as a slow start is not giving the rest of the team the credit they deserve for getting off to such a good start.”

Boston held on despite 29 Doncic points and five other Mavs double-figure scoring efforts. The Celtics limited the damage elsewhere and held Dallas to sub-30 scoring quarters in the second and third, carving out narrow advantages in each quarter before breaking away on a 15-5 run during Al Horford and Xavier Tillman’s double-big minutes to go ahead by 20. The Celtics won, 138-110, winning their 10th straight game

Porzingis began the first hitting a pair of pick-and-pop threes as Jaylen Brown dove deep into the paint, turned and fired to the former Maverick for open looks. Kyrie Irving, hardly a story anymore in the west though still drawing boos with each touch, missed his first pair of looks from deep, but he and his teammates chased their misses, fired up threes to keep the shooting margin close and kept the ball away from Tatum and Brown. They combined for eight attempts in the first quarter, most of them Brown looks on the move. The Celtics only led by six while shooting 52% due to relentless Doncic scoring (6-10 FG).

“It’s been six years, you gotta love it, but rightfully so, they have a right to boo,” Irving said. “From my career record, the last few games, I haven’t won. Until I beat them, they have all the right to continue to boo, I think that’s what makes the theatrics of competitive sports fun. Just gotta embrace it, it’s part of it … the booing is part of it, I’ve dealt with Boston fans even prior to coming here. I wouldn’t say that I’ve exited them a few times, but early in my career, we used to come up to Boston and smack them around so I’ve had both sides of the coin now and I’ve accepted that’s what comes with the competitive side.”

Tatum arguably closed the game stronger from that point on, hitting 9-of-15 over the final three quarters with five free throws while Doncic closed 8-for-15. Boston tried to double him and rotate behind at points, but mostly looked comfortable yielding 37 points to him while teammates like Josh Green and Maxi Kleber provided few points. Doncic dished 11 assists, a menace hitting the roll man Dereck Lively IV, but Boston’s lead only grew as he rolled to a triple-double, his 68th.

White and Brown attacked downhill to get Tatum additional looks after he hit a mid-ranger out of timeout, Mazzulla statistically the best out of timeout coach, according to a recent analytic analysis. Tatum attacked inside the arc on both looks away from Dallas’ defensive rotations, then attacked the rim for a fourth straight make. He pressed slightly, throwing up an aimless layup in traffic before Brown got stripped on the break in an ugly closing run into halftime, but three makes by Brown after on a put-back, errant save out of bounds by Kleber in the back court and attacking Dallas out of the veer downhill from Porzingis maintained a 66-59 Boston halftime lead.

“It’s not (Tatum)’s job to get off to fast starts,” Mazzulla said. “It’s his job to play defense, to play offense, make the right play and be himself when we need him to be. I don’t consider it a slow start, I consider it a great start for our team and I consider it great patience and understanding the game for him and then picking and choosing his spots really well to put us in position to win.”

P.J. Washington hit back-to-back threes before Doncic found Irving and Lively at the basket to pull within three. Mazzulla called another timeout and Jrue Holiday leaped on the ball, finding Brown twice and running in transition patiently finding Tatum in trail position for a three. Boston led by eight again, and after Horford blocked Dante Exum, sending him stumbling into the row of baseline cameras, Porzingis found Tatum through Holiday then Tatum buried a step-back three over Kleber to secure a 100-86 lead into the fourth.

Tillman returned to begin the final frame next to Horford for the decisive run. Horford found White cutting to the basket before he hit a second-chance three, then Brown drove into the paint, spun into a 360 and finished. The only other surprise of Tillman listed beyond not knowing he’d play in the first place. Pritchard capped the run with a corner three that Horford found him on through a big-to-big pass across the post to Tillman, then Tillman fed him back on an alley-oop that secured a 20 point lead that grew to as large as 28.

“The minutes went well,” Tillman said. “That one pass that J.T. threw to me, someone got their hand on it, I wish I would’ve kept my eyes on it a little bit longer, I probably would’ve caught it and finished it, but as far as everything else, I felt like it went pretty well. No surprises other than J.B.’s 360 layup. I was in the corner like, this guy’s crazy.”





Bobby Manning

Boston Celtics beat reporter for CLNS Media and host of the Garden Report Celtics Post Game Show. NBA national columnist for Boston Sports Journal. Contributor to SB Nation's CelticsBlog. Host of the Dome Theory Sports and Culture Podcast on CLNS. Syracuse University 2020.

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