The Celtics once again received the type of leading performances at both ends of the court from their star players that the Nets desperately needed — but didn’t get — from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Jayson Tatum netted a game-high 39 points and Jaylen Brown added 23 as the Celtics moved within one win of sweeping the Nets with a 109-103 victory Saturday night at Barclays Center. Tatum’s output exceeded the combined total for both Durant and Irving, who finished with 16 apiece.
“I’m not trying to make it a one-on-one thing [with Durant] or a matchup thing, just doing whatever I can to get a win,” Tatum said after the game. “As long as we won, that’s all I care about.”
Tatum also has defended against Durant for much of the series, and the the Celtics’ top-rated defense held the Nets superstar to 31.7 percent shooting in the first two games of the series in Boston and to just 11 field-goal attempts (6- for-11) in Game 3.
“He’s been that all year for us,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said of Tatum, who finished with six steals. “We’ve talked about our team as a collective unit being the number one defensive team and that takes everybody to buy in. He doesn’t always get the credit for that because of the scoring progress.”
Asked if he believes the Celtics have flustered Durant, Brown said: “I’m not worried about what KD is thinking. I’m worried about what we’re thinking. Our job is to make him guess a little bit, and to make it tough. Goal Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant. He’s had a hard time and we want to keep it that way. Because we know what he can do.”
The second-seeded Celtics, who will get their first chance to sweep the series on Monday in Game 4, welcomed back Robert Williams III for the first time since he suffered a torn meniscus on March 27 and underwent surgery three days later.
The shot-blocking Boston big man scored just two points in 16 minutes off the bench, but those came on an emphatic alley-oop dunk on a feed from Tatum in the second quarter.
Ben Simmons has targeted Game 4 for his return from a back injury — and his first appearance with the Nets since he was acquired from the 76ers in the blockbuster trade of James Harden in February. Williams’ return further bolstered a Boston defense that ranked first in the NBA during the regular season.
The 6-foot-9 Williams finished fourth in the NBA with 2.2 blocked shots per game, while averaging nearly a double-double (10.0 points and 9.6 rebounds) in 29.6 minutes per game over 61 starting appearances. Soon after entering the game early in the second quarter, Williams also rejected an Andre Drummond drive to the rim.
“When you get out there, it helps you to not think about it,” Williams said of his knee. “Coming straight into a playoff game, I just got a job to do to help my team win.”