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Behind Tatum, Brown each scoring 31, Celtics beat Hawks to take 3-1 series lead

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks - Game Four

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 23: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics catches a pass against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter of Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at State Farm Arena on April 23, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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ATLANTA — Jaylen Brown took off the mask - revealing a guy who suddenly couldn’t miss.

Brown scored 31 points, most of them after removing a protective facial device he’s worn for two months, and the Boston Celtics moved to the brink of advancing to the second round with a 129-121 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.

Jayson Tatum also had 31 points for the Celtics, who now lead 3-1 with the best-of-seven series shifting back to Boston for a possible clinching game Tuesday.

Brown stunned his teammates by removing the mask during a timeout early in the second quarter after making only 1 of 7 shots. Marcus Smart joked that no one recognized Brown at first; after all, he’s been wearing the black shield since sustaining facial contusions in February.

“Maybe it was all my head,” Brown said. “I just needed a different look.”

The Celtics sure liked his new look. Brown went 11 of 15 from the field the rest of the way.

“As soon as I took it off, things started to turn around a little bit,” he said.

Both of Boston’s big stars came through when it mattered most.

Brown and Tatum combined to score their team’s final 16 points, thwarting every attempt by the Hawks to even the series.

It was an especially satisfying victory for Brown - not only because he ditched the mask, but doing it in the metro area where he was born and raised.

“It’s bittersweet, man, growing up here,” the 26-year-old Brown said. “My first game was a Hawks game. I was sitting in the nosebleeds. My aunt, who was in attendance tonight, bought me tickets to my first game for my seventh birthday.”

Boston never trailed after grabbing a 4-3 lead on Derrick White’s basket just over a minute into the game.

Tatum delivered a huge 3-pointer off a loose ball with two minutes remaining, pushing the Celtics to a 118-106 lead.

After Trae Young swished a long 3 to provide Atlanta’s last gasp, Brown knocked one down from beyond the arc seal it for the Celtics.

Smart added 19 points and White 18.

Young had another big game for Atlanta with 35 points and 15 assists, but it wasn’t enough. De’Andre Hunter chipped in with 27 and DeJounte Murray had 23.

“They came out with a sense of urgency, and it showed,” Young said. “They’re a really good team. They’re here for a reason.”

Hunter ripped off eight straight points, including a couple of 3s, and then delivered a thunderous dunk that brought the Hawks within 53-49.

But Boston closed the first half on a 12-4 spurt, capped by Smart’s 3-pointer that sent the visitors to the locker room with a 65-53 lead and sapped a lot of energy from the home crowd.

Smart was in the Celtics lineup and looked just fine after a hard fall near the end of Game 3.

He landed on his tailbone while battling for a rebound, prompting Boston to list him as a game-time decision. But coach Joe Mazzulla declared his guard “good to go” well ahead of tipoff.

“The back locked up a few times, but I got through it OK,” Smart said.

After the Atlanta bench came up big in Game 3, the Celtics’ backups carried a major load Sunday.

Especially Robert Williams III, who had 13 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and blocked two shots.

“When he’s healthy, he’s probably the best defender in our league,” Brown said, “He has such a presence on the game.”

Malcolm Brogdon contributed 14 points and four assists. In all, the Boston reserves outscored the Hawks’ bench 30-21.