The Boston Celtics were without guard Jaylen Brown in Friday’s powerhouse matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers due to a sore left knee. But Jayson Tatum carried the day with 34 points, drawing high praise from all over the league.
ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins tweeted out that Tatum was the best player on the floor in the game, which featured MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers.
HUGE CULTURE WIN for a short handed Boston Celtics team! Btw Jayson Tatum was the Best player on the floor tonight. Just saying tho…
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) February 6, 2021
Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande pointed out that Tatum’s five 3-pointers moved him up on the team’s all-time list.
Guarded Kawhi in the 4th quarter
And in addition to all of it, Jayson Tatum tonight made five 3's, passing Isaiah Thomas to move into 7th on the Celtics' all-time 3-pointer list. pic.twitter.com/O9mUoaSsga
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) February 6, 2021
And ESPN’s stats division found that Tatum became only the second Celtics player in history (with John Havlicek) to score 30-plus points in three straight games against the Clippers.
Jayson Tatum has his 3rd straight game with 30+ points against the Clippers.
Tatum joins John Havlicek (3 straight in 1971) as the only players in Celtics history with 3 straight 30-point games against the Clippers. pic.twitter.com/ubDy84Ckgv
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 6, 2021
Jaylen Brown’s Knee a Concern
Brown, who had yet to miss a game this season, was listed as questionable Thursday following Boston’s 116-111 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday evening. The Celtics’ young superstar logged 34 minutes and scored 21 points against the Kings, but appeared to be in some discomfort during the third quarter following a seemingly benign drive to the basket.
Brown is averaging 26.4 points a game and is currently fourth among Eastern Conference guards in All-Star voting.
#NEBHInjuryReport for tonight vs. LA Clippers (2/5):
Jaylen Brown (left knee soreness) – OUT
Payton Pritchard – AVAILABLE
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 5, 2021
The news of Brown’s scratch makes for a bittersweet injury report heading into the Clippers game. Though Marcus Smart is also out—his third missed game following a Grade 1 calf strain Saturday against the Lakers, an injury should keep him sidelined another two weeks—Boston will see the return of rookie guard Payton Pritchard (MCL strain).
Pritchard, who has quickly become a fan favorite due to his relentless intensity and steady ballhandling, saw his first minutes since January 22. Pritchard played 19 minutes, scoring eight points on 3-for-4 shooting.
A Constant State of Flux
Through 20 games, Boston’s guards and small forwards have been in an almost constant state of flux. In addition to the recent Smart injury, starting point guard Kemba Walker and backup Pritchard have both missed significant time with knee injuries.
Shooting guard Romeo Langford has yet to play a game this year as he recovers from wrist surgery. The injuries have forced Boston to play Jeff Teague early and often at point, and the veteran has not exactly responded with flying colors. Averaging 6.1 shots per game, Teague is shooting a paltry 32.1% from the field.
Most impactful, though, was the nearly 17-day absence of Boston’s other young superstar, Jayson Tatum, following a positive COVID-19 test in mid-January. During Tatum’s quarantine, the Celtics went 2-3, losing twice on the road to the division-leading Sixers and getting blown out at home by 30 to the Knicks.
Making matters worse, Tatum’s COVID-19 diagnosis, combined with the NBA’s contract-tracing protocol, resulted in Boston having to postpone three games due to insufficient roster numbers. And now the missed games are making for an extremely tight February schedule. Starting with the Clippers tonight, Boston will play 14 games in 23 days to finish off the month.
Clippers Present a Tall Order
Brown’s absence, as well as an early 16-point deficit boded poorly for Boston’s chances against a talented Clippers squad that was sporting an 8-2 record at home and fresh off an East Coast road trip during which they won four of six.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Celtics entered the game with recent history on their side. In their previous matchup with the Clippers, in February of 2020 before the season was suspended due to COVID-19, Boston eked out a 141-133 double-overtime victory at home, in large part on the strength of 39 points from Tatum.