The Boston Celtics could not have asked for a better time for Jayson Tatum to rediscover his best form than on Monday night.
The 24-year-old, who has blossomed into one of the NBA’s biggest stars this season and during the playoffs, scored 31 points as the Celtics dominated the Miami Heat 102-82 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
After a disappointing Game 3 in which he scored just 10 points as the Heat comfortably won, Tatum looked back to his best, racking up eight rebounds and five assists as well.
The result levels the best-of-seven series at 2-2, with the two sides facing off next in Game 5 in Miami on Wednesday.
“You feel like you let your teammates down,” Tatum said when asked about his Game 3 performance.
“I think I do a really good job of sleeping it off regardless if I had 10 points or 46 points. I’m a big believer that you can’t change what happened. I didn’t doubt myself.”
Tatum added: “Obviously, we knew how important this game was. Everybody just had to come up with a different sense of urgency.”
Throughout the regular season, Boston’s defense had been the No. 1 ranked in the NBA. And it showed why early on in Game 5, even without the NBA’s defensive player of the year, Marcus Smart.
Miami missed 15 of their first 16 shots as the Celtics stifled the Heat, allowing them to build a 26-4 lead and cruise to a comfortable victory late on.
Boston led by 27 points in the second quarter and as many as 32 points in the third.
For the Heat, it was a disappointing outing after an impressive Game 3 performance on the road.
None of Miami’s starters reached double figures in points and the starting five totaled only 18 points in the game, the fewest by a starting lineup in the playoffs since stats were tracked in 1971, according to ESPN. Reserve guard Victor Oladipo led the way for the Heat with 23 points.
Miami’s anemic offense also only had one point in the first eight minutes, the lowest total by any team in a playoff game in the last quarter-century, according to ESPN.
Playing without the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Tyler Herro, Miami struggled to create an opening in a hostile environment against a swarming defense.
“They came out and jumped us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’re not making any excuses. They outplayed us tonight for sure. We never could get any kind of grip on the game.”