Celtics, Pacers maul foes, gain playoffs
LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Jayson Tatum erupted for 50 points as the Boston Celtics booked their place in the playoffs on Tuesday with a 118-100 win over the Washington Wizards as the NBA’s play-in tournament got under way.
Tatum produced a virtuoso performance to outshine Wizards triple-double king Russell Westbrook as the Celtics advanced to a first round playoff series against the second seeded Brooklyn Nets.
The Wizards will now host the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, with the winner of that game facing a first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, the top seeds from the Eastern Conference.
“This is big,” Tatum said afterwards. “We wanted to come out and compete. Everybody played well and contributed. We’re feeling good about ourselves.”
An even first half at Boston’s TD Garden on Tuesday saw Washington edge into 54-52 half-time lead before the Celtics and Tatum exploded in the third quarter to break the game open.
The Celtics outscored the Wizards 38-26 in the third period, with Tatum combining superbly with Kemba Walker to rapidly erase their half-time deficit and open up a 16-point lead.
That burst of scoring proved decisive with the Celtics keeping the Wizards at arm’s length thereafter as they closed out the win.
The win marked a startling turnaround in form for the Celtics, who lost five of their six final regular season games.
Tatum finished with 50 points, eight rebounds and four assists — a tally that included a perfect 17 of 17 from the free throw line — while Walker had 29 points. Tristan Thompson added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards scoring with 22 points while Westbrook finished with 20 points. Westbrook had a rare off night, making only six of 18 attempts from the field.
The Wizards must now rally themselves for Thursday’s clash with Indiana, who looked red hot in a 144-117 blowout to eliminate the Charlotte Hornets in Tuesday’s early play-in game.
Oshae Brissett scored 23 points and Doug McDermott added 21 as the Pacers got off to a fast start and never eased up in a comprehensive wire-to-wire victory in Indianapolis.
Domantas Sabonis added 14 points and hauled down 21 rebounds with nine assists in a dominant display.
“I feel like everybody’s confidence is the highest it’s been all year,” Sabonis said.
“This is the perfect timing for us,” added Sabonis, one of eight Pacers players who finished with double-digit points tallies.
Miles Bridges scored 23 points to lead the scoring for the Hornets, whose season was brought to an emphatic end with the loss.
Only one win had separated the ninth-placed Pacers from the 10th-ranked Hornets during the regular season which wrapped up on Sunday.
However a gulf in class soon became apparent on Tuesday as the Pacers sprinted into a 40-24 lead by the end of the first quarter.
By halftime the Pacers had opened up a 24-point cushion to effectively kill the contest against a strangely subdued Hornets line-up.
The Pacers continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over and led by as much as 32 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte struggled to make any sort of impression against an iron Indiana defence.
The NBA used a play-in tournament for the playoffs this season after deploying the format last year when the pandemic-disrupted campaign was completed in the Orlando bubble in Florida.
Under the new format, teams in each conference ranked from 7th to 10th place play a mini-tournament to determine the final two playoff places to go alongside the top six from each conference who have qualified automatically.