Celtics-Trail Blazers takeaways: C's survive wild fourth quarter in Portland originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics looked more like their pre-All-Star break selves Friday night in Portland.
It's been a rocky stretch for the C's, but their performance vs. the Trail Blazers marked one of their best since the calendar flipped to March. At least, it did for three-and-a-half quarters.
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Boston maintained a double-digit lead for most of the game but watched their 21-point lead dwindle to eight in the fourth quarter. Blazers star Damian Lillard dropped 25 points in the frame to lead Portland's valiant comeback effort, but the Celtics held on to earn a 126-112 victory.
Jayson Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 34 points. Jaylen Brown notched 27 points of his own while Marcus Smart tallied 15.
Lillard finished with a game-high 41 points. Anfernee Simons was the Trail Blazers' second-highest scorer with 17.
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The Celtics improve to 49-22 on the season with the win. They'll look to earn their third straight victory when they visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
First, here are our takeaways from Friday's game in Portland.
Jayson Tatum makes up for shooting woes
Tatum is in the midst of a brutal shooting stretch. Over his last three games, he's just 4-for-29 from 3-point range. He was 2-for-11 from beyond the arc on Saturday night.
The four-time All-Star found other ways to dominate against the NBA's worst defense. His nine free throws in the first quarter marked the most first-quarter free throws in his career. He finished with 15 points in the frame and continued to get to the line consistently.
Tatum was 16-for-18 from the charity stripe for the game, meaning almost half of his 34 points came from free throws. He was 6-for-9 on shots inside the arc.
The Celtics will hope Tatum's shot returns sooner rather than later, but Saturday showed he doesn't need to live by the 3 ball to be effective. The 25-year-old added 12 rebounds, four assists, and three steals to his stat line.
Big night for the big men
Boston's bigs were dominant from start to finish against Portland. It started with veteran Al Horford, who set the tone early with a pair of 3s and is now shooting 26-for-43 from deep in March.
Horford also made an enormous difference as a playmaker as he enjoyed his first 10-assist game since 2019. He finished with 12 points (4-6 FG, 3-4 3PT), 10 assists, and five rebounds.
Blake Griffin continued to be a force on the offensive glass, which has been huge with Robert Williams III out. He brought down six offensive boards and nine rebounds altogether in his 14 minutes. Six of those rebounds (three offensive) came in the first quarter when he was all over the floor giving the C's a spark. He kept that same energy throughout the night.
Luke Kornet hasn't been much of a factor recently for the C's, but the 7-footer certainly made his presence felt in Portland.
Kornet had nine of his 11 points and four of his five rebounds in the second quarter. He collected three offensive boards in his 18 minutes.
Overall the Celtics dominated the offensive glass, 18-8. They outrebounded the Trail Blazers, 52-37.
Even with leads of 15 or more points, the Celtics haven't made it easy on themselves this season. That was the case again on Saturday as they watched a 21-point lead shrink to eight in the fourth quarter.
Damian Lillard was the man responsible for Boston's latest late-game scare. The seven-time All-Star was held in check for three quarters but exploded for 25 points in the final frame, including 18 consecutive points scored.
Fortunately for the Celtics, Lillard couldn't overcome the deficit on his own. Marcus Smart's clutch steal with about two minutes to go halted Portland's momentum and helped to put the game on ice.
Closing games hasn't been the Celtics' strong suit. And while they escaped with the win this time around, it still feels like no double-digit lead is safe. That's an area they need to improve heading into the postseason.