Tatum’s 33 points, late flurry lifts Celtics over Magic
By Kyle Hightower
BOSTON (AP) — When the Celtics have needed an offensive lift this season, Jayson Tatum has often been the one to pick up the scoring load.
He did it again to help Boston fend off a Magic team fighting to stay in playoff contention.
Tatum scored 16 of his 33 points in the second half and the Celtics held off Orlando 116-100 on Wednesday night.
Gordon Hayward added 23 points and Jaylen Brown finished with 18 to help Boston win its fifth straight.
It was Tatum’s sixth game this season with 30 or more points.
“Just confidence has a lot to do with it — opportunity, and just trying to get better,” he said. “Trying to get better in all aspects of my game each year and each summer. Just trying to be a better version of myself than I was last year.”
Orlando pulled within 105-98 with less than three minutes to play on a basket by Nik Vucevic. The Celtics responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by Hayward and Tatum that made it 111-98 with 1:46 left.
Evan Fournier led the Magic with 26 points. Aaron Gordon added 23 points and 10 rebounds. Terrence Ross finished with 18 points. Orlando lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Boston played extremely short-handed with Kemba Walker (sore left knee), Marcus Smart (right quad contusion), Daniel Theis (right ankle sprain) and Robert Williams (left hip edema) all sitting out. Rookie Romeo Langford made his first-career start in Walker’s absence.
After being held to three points in the third quarter, Tatum scored 10 straight points to give Boston a 99-91 lead with 6:52 remaining. Then, following a timeout, Tatum led a fast break and found Brown, who threw down a one-handed dunk over Michael Carter-Williams to give the Celtics the game’s first double-digit advantage.
“He’s an All-Star for a reason,” Gordon said of Tatum. “Kemba was out, he stepped up.”
Hayward said he and his teammates made up for what they didn’t have on the court by playing hard and sticking to the game plan.
“We battled,” Hayward said. “Some of it is just being able to experience playing with each other more and more. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup all year, so we kind of get used to that.”
The Magic took an early 12-5 lead in the first quarter before the Celtics closed the period on a 27-12 run.
Tatum was sidelined with a groin strain for Boston’s win at Orlando last month. He had the hot hand for the Celtics early, scoring 17 points in the opening 24 minutes as Boston took a 57-56 lead into halftime.
“I think some things have slowed down a little bit,” Tatum said. “I was playing with aggression early in the season, missing a lot of easy shots in the paint. For me it’s all about reading the defense and whatever they give me.”
Magic: D.J. Augustin missed his 10th consecutive game with left knee bone irritation.
Celtics: Tatum has scored in double figures in a career-best 37 consecutive games.
Referee Aaron Smith left the court with undisclosed injury in the first quarter and did not return. Officials Leon Wood and Marc Davis completed the game as a two-man crew.
Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Orlando acquiring Markelle Fultz in a trade with the 76ers.
The Magic couldn’t be happier with how the former No. 1 overall pick is fitting in after two seasons in Philadelphia plagued by injuries and shooting problems.
Fultz played his 50th game of the season Wednesday — more than his first two seasons combined (33). He also entered the game averaging a career-high 11.7 points and team-best 4.8 assists. Magic coach Steve Clifford said he expects both numbers will continue to rise as he continues to get healthy.
“He’s still not 100 percent. If you saw what he has to do every day to get ready to play — as his knee, his shoulder, his wrist get better he’s gonna play better,” Clifford said. “There’s a reason he was the No. 1 pick in a really talented draft class.”
Magic: Visit Knicks on Thursday.
Celtics: Host Hawks on Friday.
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