Celtics vs. Bucks takeaways: Jayson Tatum goes off, Boston keeps hopes for No. 1 seed alive with dominant win

March 31, 2023 2:33 am

Tatum finished with 40 points and eight rebounds, as the Celtics cruised to a 41-point win

MILWAUKEE — The last time Jayson Tatum suited up for a game at Fiserv Forum, the Boston Celtics were down 3-2 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs last season. Tatum responded with the best, and most important performance of his career — a 46-point, nine-rebound masterpiece in Game 6 to keep the Celtics’ season alive. 

His 40-point, eight-rebound effort in Thursday night’s 140-99 win for the Celtics wasn’t nearly as important, but his shot-making was just as impressive. He went 12-of-18 from the field, including 8-of-10 from 3-point land and 8-of-8 from the free throw line, to equal his most efficient shooting performance of the season and record his 11th 40-point game of the season. 

Tatum got plenty of help from Jaylen Brown, who finished with 30 points, five rebounds and five assists as well as major contributions from Al Horford and Malcolm Brogdon, each of whom chipped in 14 points. As a team, the Celtics shot 22-of-43 from behind the arc to tie the fifth-most 3s they’ve hit in a game this season. 

Here are some key takeaways from the Celtics’ impressive win:

Celtics keep hope for No. 1 seed alive

The Celtics were in control of the top spot in the Eastern Conference for much of the season, but that all changed in February when they stumbled and the Bucks ripped off a 16-game winning streak to jump them for both the best record in the league and the No. 1 seed in the East. 

Entering Thursday’s matchup, the Celtics trailed the Bucks by three games and were looking at a must-win to keep any slim chance of reclaiming the No. 1 seed alive. With their emphatic victory, the Celtics narrowed the gap to two games, but more importantly, they secured the tiebreaker between the two clubs. Now, if they finish with identical records at the end of the season, the Celtics would get the top spot.

Of course, that’s a big if. The Celtics have five games remaining: at home against the Jazz, a quick road trip to play the Sixers, then back home for a two-game set with the Raptors and one versus the Hawks. As for the Bucks, they’ll be home against the Sixers, away to the Wizards, back home to play the Bulls and Grizzlies, then on the road versus the Raptors. 

The Bucks’ magic number to clinch the No. 1 seed is four, which means they’ll need a combination of four wins and/or Celtics losses

Tatum’s 3-point shot returns

Tatum won the All-Star Game MVP Award in February by hitting 10 3-pointers en route to his record-setting 55 points. Unfortunately for him and the Celtics, he seemed to have used up all of his 3-point shooting ability that weekend, when he also participated in the 3-Point Contest. 

Coming into Thursday’s showdown with the Bucks, Tatum was 42-of-143 (29.4 percent) from 3-point land since the All-Star break and had not made more than six 3s in a game. That all changed in this one. He missed his first attempt, then got it stuck on automatic and finished 8-of-10 from deep in his best 3-point outing of the season, let alone since the break.