Boston’s Jayson Tatum, left, and Golden State’s Stephen Curry talk after the Celtics’ 119-114 win on Saturday in Boston. Tatum scored 44 and Curry had 47. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

BOSTON — It’s not often an opponent goes shot-for-shot against Stephen Curry, willing their team to a win over the sharpshooter. That’s what Jayson Tatum did Saturday night, pouring in 44 points, just a tick below Curry’s 47.

Curry was his All-World self, shooting 11 for 19 from behind the arc. Curry finished 15 for 27 from the field, which included the improbable and the step-backs. Tatum was 16 for 25, and while 5 for 9 from 3 is plenty impressive, it was dwarfed by Curry’s shooting numbers.

But it was Tatum and the Celtics walking away with the all-important 119-114 win Saturday at TD Garden. It wasn’t just Tatum who shined as Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker knocked in late 3-pointers to ice the victory.

“Just mutual respect,” Tatum said of him and Curry. “Obviously, two big performances. I was glad that we got the win, but obviously he’s one of the all-time greats. Just to earn his respect and get a win on the same night, it was a good night.”

Saturday’s triumph was Boston’s sixth straight win, a short-term cause of optimism. But Tatum’s recent play is what boosts the Celtics’ ceiling as playoff contenders. Tatum, the 23-year-old All-Star, raised his level of play with Jaylen Brown out because of a non-COVID illness.

Warriors stars Draymond Green and Curry gave Tatum, who’s averaging 27.5 points per game this month, his props after a highlight-filled game.


“I just told him he’s super tough,” Curry said of Tatum. “You can tell the game has slowed down for him the way he picks and chooses his spots.”

Tatum has elevated his play in recent weeks, getting to the free-throw line at a renewed rate. He’s attempted at least eight free throws in four of his last five games, which has resulted in easier points. He’s averaging 6.0 free throws per game in April, the highest mark of the season thus far.

Where the Celtics needed Tatum was in the second quarter as the Warriors built a 16-point lead, on the verge of running away with the win. Boston’s defense was getting shredded, and that was courtesy of Curry making droves of difficult shots.

That’s when Tatum put the Celtics on his back. His 23 first-half points more than matched Curry’s 22, keeping Boston within striking distance. The Celtics finished the first half on a 10-0 run, cutting into the Warriors’ lead as Tatum’s buzzer-beater gave them momentum. Stevens said that late stretch gave them some “juice” that translated to the rest of the game.

“Just trying to stay the course,” Tatum said. “It’s been a weird year obviously. And we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. Just trying to be there for each other and everybody in that locker room.”

Tatum’s 44 points would’ve been a career-high if it weren’t for his 53-point outburst against the Timberwolves on April 9 just a week ago. There was one caveat that came with the career performance: Tatum’s son, Deuce, wasn’t in attendance.


Deuce was around this time around.

“I always love when he’s at the game,” Tatum said. “It’s just kind of a visual representation of what I do it for. To have him watching and know he’s looking up to me, that’s all the motivation in the world right there.”

Tatum elevating his play comes at the perfect time with the Celtics soaring. There’s a direct correlation between the two as he shoots, scores and defends better in wins. Boston’s six-game winning streak has boosted them to sole possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference and a healthy cushion away from the play-in scenarios.

After a bout with COVID-19, Tatum looked sluggish for weeks as he tried to get back into peak physical condition. He said he’s finally close to being all the way back, and that has shown on the court.

“It’s incredible,” Smart said. “It’s a good feeling to see, it’s a good feeling to be a part of. Just to see his development and see him continue to ascend into a great player, it’s definitely been a pleasure to be a part of.”

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