BOSTON — As a birthday present to himself on Thursday night, Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum decided to score as many points in the fourth quarter as the number of years he has spent on the planet in continuing his team’s charge up the Eastern Conference standings.
Tatum scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter to cap a mano-a-mano duel with Memphis star Ja Morant as the Celtics defeated the Grizzlies 120-107 at TD Garden. Three players for the Celtics chipped in with double-doubles — Al Horford with 21 points and 15 rebounds, Robert Williams with 10 points and 21 rebounds, and Marcus Smart with 18 points and 12 assists — as Boston is now a conference-best 11-2 since the start of February and currently occupies fifth place in the East.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Tatum, who turned 24 on Thursday. “The place was electric tonight.”
Most of that electricity was generated even before the game started and by who was visiting the gym tonight; Morant, who was coming off a career-high 52 points on Monday against San Antonio after a 46-point effort last weekend in Chicago, had led the Grizzlies to wins in eight of their last 10 games, with most of those games littered with breathtakingly viral highlights. The first half, however, saw the Celtics’ defense stifle Morant, as he missed all six of his field goal attempts in the first quarter and wrapped up the half with just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.
The second half was a different story for Morant, looking every bit the force of nature as he poured in 16 points. However, the Grizzles lost even more ground in the third after going into the half down two, as Boston shot 67 percent from the field (14-for-21) in extending its lead to 83-72 at the end of three.
The fourth quarter became a heads-up clash between two superstars, and it was Tatum’s baskets that kept Morant and the Grizzles at bay. After a Jaren Jackson Jr. dunk that cut Boston’s lead to 86-79, Tatum scored 14 of the Celtics’ next 19 points during a game-deciding 19-9 run that pushed Boston’s lead to 105-88 with just over five minutes remaining. Tatum finished with 21 points in the fourth quarter, compared to Morant’s 14 points in the frame — and 30 in the second half.
“I think it was just kind of one of those moments; two guys just going at it and doing what they can to try and will their team to a victory,” Tatum said. “It just so happened that it was kind of a back-and-forth thing.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Jenny Rohl. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are eight pictures in total.