BOSTON — Jayson Tatum knew what was coming and waited for his moment.
His team leading by 10 with less than three minutes to play, he hawked Atlanta’s Trae Young as he dribbled on the right wing and tried to lead Tatum into a screen.
But the Celtics All-Star brushed it off and stretched to swat Young;’s attempt at a step-back 3-pointer. The loose ball was scooped up by Derrick White and tossed ahead to a streaking Tatum for an one-handed dunk.
The play ended a clinching late run and was the final basket of the night for Tatum and Boston beat Atlanta 119-106 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
While Tatum had the exclamation point and finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds, he said the night belonged to White. The defensive-minded guard contributed all over the court, pouring 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
JT with the 3 and Derrick White right back with an easyyy bucket pic.twitter.com/ZiQbVAHmyr
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) April 19, 2023
“We’re so much more of a dynamic team when D-White is asserting himself and being aggressive and not being passive.” Tatum said. These last two games (White) being aggressive, making the right play, attacking the rim and not necessarily waiting makes us that much more of a better team.”
Jaylen Brown added 18 points. Boston outscored Atlanta 64-40 in the paint. Game 3 is Friday night in Atlanta.
“(Tatum and Brown) get a lot of attention. It just opens up the court for myself,” White said. “When the opportunity is there I just have to attack and do what I do.”
Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 29 points. Young had 24, but shot 9 of 22 from the field and 2 of 8 from beyond the arc. He also had five turnovers, bringing his total to 11 for the series.
“I can be better,” Young said. “I didn’t shoot the ball really well. I had some turnovers where I was just driving and it just left my hands. But I’m going to be better at home.”
Down by 20, the Hawks cut it to single digits late in the third quarter.
With Atlanta trailing 74-57, Young went to the bench and sat out the final 7:07 of the period, briefly visiting the locker room.
His teammates picked it up without him, outscoring the Celtics 24-16 to pull within nine – at 90-81 – entering the fourth.
Young returned to begin the final period and scored four straight points with just over five minutes to play to make it 104-95.
But the Celtics responded with a 15-2 run – bookended by a 3-pointer and Tatum’s dunk – to get it back up to 119-97 with 2:16 left.
While the Hawks brought a better shooting touch on Tuesday, the Celtics took their overall energy up a notch, repeatedly beating Atlanta down the court in transition and outhustling Hawks to loose balls.
One glaring example was in the second quarter when Brown pried the ball free as De’Andre Hunter drove by.
Malcolm Brogdon corralled it and tossed it ahead a sprinting Brown, who had split between Young and Dejounte Murray as they got caught ball watching.
“We’ve been a group that’s hung our hat on defense all year,” Brown said. “We play both sides of the ball and we do it at a high level. Sometimes it goes unnoticed. … But when it comes down to it, the playoffs, that’s where our defense matters the most.”