SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 34 points, including the tiebreaking jumper with 33 seconds left, Jaylen Brown added 29 and the Boston Celtics beat the San Antonio Spurs 121-116 on Saturday.
The reigning Eastern Conference champions maintained the NBA’s best record by winning for the sixth time in eight games.
“I’m actually glad the game went like that for us,” Boston interim coach Joe Mazzulla said. “We needed a game like that, to where it’s back and forth. Things aren’t going our way; they are going our way. You just don’t get a lot of those. It’s easier to say that because we won, but I’m happy the game went the way it did because we got to execute some stuff.”
And it gave Tatum an opportunity to close out a victory.
Tatum was serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants late in the first half while attempting a free throw. The All-Star rewarded the Celtics fans in attendance with his highest-scoring game since dropping 38 points against Houston on Dec. 27.
San Antonio had eight players score in double figures, including 18 points each from Josh Richardson, Zach Collins and Tre Jones.
San Antonio never led but remained close throughout despite being without injured starters Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl.
“Great game, couldn’t be more proud of them,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Jayson did it at the end of the game, (he) got us. But taking care of the ball, rebounding, playing with effort, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. A great game for them to be participating in and to play the way they did. Lots of great contributions from everybody on the court and over time we will get everybody back.”
Richardson and fellow former Celtics player Romeo Langford forged a tie with 37 seconds remaining. Following a layup by Langford with 1:12 left, Richardson drained a 3-pointer that tied the game at 116.
Tatum followed with a step-back 13-footer to put Boston ahead and made the first of two free throws before intentionally missing the second to preserve the victory.
“Obviously they are an extremely well-coached team,” Tatum said. “Teams like that are dangerous. Kind of playing carefree, the pace that they play at. They don’t necessarily have an agenda, just pass, cut and try to get the best shot. Constant movement.”
Boston was forced to call a timeout four minutes into the third quarter after San Antonio opened the second half on a 13-3 run to close within 71-70. Jones had seven points in the run, including a three-point play after Derrick White was called for goaltending following a foul by Marcus Smart.
Tatum responded by making an open 3-pointer. San Antonio would again pull within a point at 79-78, but Brown responded with a three-point play.
Celtics: Smart exited the game in the third quarter after bumping knees with Collins on a screen. Smart told reporters after the game that X-rays were negative, but his status remains uncertain. … Boston had dropped two straight in San Antonio, last winning Nov. 9, 2019, at the AT&T Center. … White was honored prior to being announced in the starting lineup. White spent his first 4 1/2 seasons with the Spurs after being drafted 29th in 2017 out of Colorado. San Antonio traded White to Boston on Feb. 10 for Richardson, Langford and a first-round pick they used to select Blake Wesley 25th in 2022.
Spurs: Vassell will undergo arthroscopic left knee surgery Jan. 11 in New York. Popovich said Vassell will likely not return until after the All-Star Game, which is Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. … Johnson sat out after suffering a strained left hamstring during the first half of Friday’s victory against Detroit. … Poeltl missed the game with bursitis in his Achilles heel.
White was honored with a video highlighting his time in San Antonio, which drew thunderous applause.
“I was extremely thankful for it,” White said. “I always had great times here and the crowd was amazing. I was just extremely thankful and grateful for it, for them to do that for me.”