The Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors played in what was probably one of the best games of the NBA season on Saturday night.
The back-and-forth game saw two All-Stars, Steph Curry and Jayson Tatum, catch fire and go blow-for-blow. Neither team was ever out of the game, and even when it looked early like the Warriors had an upper hand on the Celtics, the C's battled back and made a game of it.
The game ended up being decided by two runs. The first was a 28-5 run by the C's that saw them turn a 16-point deficit into a seven-point advantage at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half.
The second game-swinging run came in the final 4:10 of the game, during which the C's outscored the Warriors 16-5 down the stretch to turn a six-point disadvantage into a five-point victory.
Boston played well in this game and fought hard to keep its winning streak, now six, intact. The team also moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are the three main observations from the Celtics' 119-114 win over the Warriors.
Jayson Tatum provided the offense the Celtics needed
The Celtics came into this game significantly shorthanded. They were missing three of their top seven players including two starters, as Jaylen Brown (illness), Evan Fournier (health and safety protocols), and Robert Williams (left knee soreness) were all out of action.
As a result, the C's had to rely on their healthy stars to help carry the team in this tough matchup against a red-hot Warriors team.
They were able to do just that.
Tatum was the top performer of the night. His offensive explosion was the reason that the C's were able to match Curry's offensive output. Tatum made every shot he took look easy. Even this fall-away shot before the second half buzzer looked routine.
Down the stretch, Tatum continued to be aggressive with the ball in his hands. He wasn't afraid to go to the hoop and was strong at the rim, as he demonstrated his confidence with this late-game go-ahead lay-in.
Tatum finished 44 points, the second-highest point total of his career, and shot 64 percent from the floor. It marked the second time in his last five outings that he had logged at least 44 points.
Certainly, this was another great game for Tatum. During the C's six-game winning streak, he is averaging 32.7 points per game. If he can continue to shoot this efficiently on offense, the C's will have a chance to win no matter what competition is thrown at them.
Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart come up with key clutch plays
It wasn't just Tatum who helped carry the Celtics in the absence of Brown, Fournier, and Williams. Walker and Smart played massive roles in that as well.
Walker scored 26 on the night, but none was bigger than his dagger 3-ball with less than 24 seconds left in the game.
With the C's leading by two, Walker was able to create space between himself and Andrew Wiggins with a beautiful step-back move. Walker got behind the line drained the 3-point shot.
That shot gave the C's the cushion they needed to win. It truly was a critical make, because Curry was able to answer the 3-ball with one of his own. But thanks to Kemba's make, the C's still maintained a two-point lead.
As for Smart, his effort on the defensive side was superb as usual, but he actually hit the first shot the pushed the C's ahead of the Warriors late. And naturally, he set it up with a hustle play.
Smart pulled out a rebound among four yellow jerseys and later saw the ball come back to him. After faking a pass, he set himself up for the wide-open 3-pointer. With all the time in the world, he made it.
It wasn't just their late-game shooting that was clutch. The two stuffed the stat sheet in other areas, as they combined for 17 boards, nine assists, four steals, and just three turnovers during the game. They served as big-time playmakers for the offense and perfectly supplemented Tatum in this game.
If they can keep doing that on a regular basis, the C's offense should continue to click.
Stephen Curry is a human cheat code
The Celtics did everything they could to try to slow Curry down on Saturday night. They had Smart play tight defense on him. Walker tried to match up with him on occasion. They even opted to double-team him with Tatum at times.
Nothing could stop him. Even when Curry looked like he should have no chance to make a shot, he would come down the floor and make a play like this.
For the 10th consecutive game, Curry scored 30-plus points. That ties him with Kobe Bryant for the longest such streak by a player 33 or older. And the player he passed en route to that milestone? None other than Michael Jordan.
From deep, Curry went 11-of-19. His 3-point shooting helped to stem a 28-5 run by the Celtics virtually singlehandedly and put the Warriors back in front.
Curry was clearly the No. 1 reason that the Warriors were nearly able to beat the Celtics on Saturday night. He did everything he could to carry the Warriors even after rolling his ankle. He deserves a lot of credit for how well he played on Saturday and how well he has played over his last 10 games (39.1 points per game).