With Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague both out with injuries, Brad Stevens went deep into his laboratory.
He started Tremont Waters at point guard, played Payton Pritchard in a backup PG role that may very well be his once Kemba Walker returns, and let Jayson Tatum run his share of the offense.
Make that a lot of offense, considering that Tatum’s subsequent 40-point, five-trey, 13-for-13 free throw performance kept the Celtics in a steady flow during their 126-114 win over Toronto in their COVID Tampa home.
It was the third 40-plus performance of Tatum’s career, and gave Pritchard, in particular, an even larger stage for his NBA beginnings. The rookie point guard shot 8-for-13 for his 23 points, and also had a team-high eight assists.
Tatum had 38 points by the end of the third quarter. Pritchard, running the offense down the stretch of the quarter, had 16 points and a team-high seven assists as part of a 100-81 lead.
Tatum’s deep sideline trey over Pascal Siakam highlighted a 9-2 Celtics run that pushed the lead out to 109-83 to usher in garbage time.
Toronto shot 7-for-14 from downtown in the first quarter, led by as many as 13 points over that stretch, and carried a 32-23 edge into the second. But with Tatum’s tightly guarded pull-up three a punctuation point in the effort, the Celtics tied the game at 36-36 on back-to-back Pritchard hoops.
Tatum’s 3-pointer, followed by three free throws with 3:40 left in the half after he returned to the same spot, opened up a 47-42 Celtics lead. Thirty-eight seconds later he buried his third straight bomb, and when Pritchard followed, also from downtown, the Celtics had a 52-42 lead. Grant Williams hit, also from three, and the Celtics were now protecting an 11-point cushion.
They went into the half with a 61-46 lead, as Tatum had 26 for the highest-scoring first half of his career. Pritchard, logging 13 minutes in Smart’s absence, already had 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting.
Tatum opened the Celtics third quarter scoring by driving for a three-point play, came back a minute later with a fadeaway from the left baseline, and continued his attack.
They led by 15 points, pushed it out to 20 on a Pritchard pull-up three, and closed out the fourth with a 100-81 lead.