Al Horford brought Celtics back in Game 4, but Jayson Tatum took them home

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Tomase: Horford's career night shouldn't overshadow Tatum's heroics originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Teams don't win championships without brilliant supporting performances, and Al Horford certainly delivered Monday night in Milwaukee with the playoff game of his life.

Horford's artistry merely took the Celtics to the door, however. That's where the even bigger development occurred: Jayson Tatum kicked it in.

Horford deserves every bit of praise for a monster 30-point night, particularly after authoring what might be the signature moment of this series when he dunked on Giannis Antetokounmpo and then KO'd the two-time MVP while flexing on the landing.

But let the record show that Horford's last bucket came with 5:09 remaining, his sprawling and-one opening a 98-94 lead. The Celtics still needed to bury the defending champions and that's where Tatum, after the worst playoff performance of his career, stepped up as closing force.

Tatum took six shots in the final six minutes and made five. He scored 10 points in a crucial two-minute stretch when every basket was absolutely must-have. It's the kind of performance that harkened back to legends of Celtics past, from John Havlicek to Larry Bird to Paul Pierce, who all knew how to say, "not today."

With the game on the line, everyone in the building knew the ball was going to Tatum and the defending champions couldn't stop him.

That's called an answer, not only to the immediate circumstances of crunch time, but in the bigger picture after his miserable Game 3. It's a classic case of a superstar rising to the moment, and it provides a legitimate path for a team with championship aspirations to actually win it all.

"I played a terrible Game 3 and we almost had a chance to win," Tatum said in his postgame press conference. "That was really the toughest part, just knowing that. I was just really eager to get back and ready to play, whether it was scoring or not, just coming out and just playing better on both ends of the floor."

On Saturday, Tatum cost the Celtics with an uncharacteristically listless performance. He shot 4 of 19 and scored just 10 points in a 103-101 loss. Even more damning, he grabbed only one rebound with a mere three assists. Outside of four blocks, he impacted the game exactly nowhere.

The great ones inevitably respond, however, and we are to the point where that simple adjective absolutely applies to the player LeBron James once labeled, "A Problem."

In addition to his 30 points in Game 4, Tatum grabbed 13 rebounds, many of them in traffic. He remained engaged even when he wasn't scoring early. With Grant Williams in foul trouble and Horford tiring from the incredible load he bore on both ends, Tatum also played stout defense vs. Antetokounmpo.

Celtics Talk: "The Al Horford Game" - Celtics stun Bucks to tie series | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The Greek Freak may be more explosive, but Tatum's separator is that he can score from anywhere on the floor. Even though he hadn't dominated by any stretch through three quarters, he's always on the verge of going supernova, and he knew it.

"I still had 12 minutes left to put my mark on this game and try to help us win," he said. "I'm a big believer in, good or bad, whatever happens, you can't change it. I always believe the next shot is going to go in. My teammates believe in me. Everyone wants me to be aggressive. They trust that I'm going to make the right play, and that's just what I'm trying to do."

So he went to work. He tied the game at 92-92 with a drive following Pat Connaughton's go-ahead 3-pointer. After Horford scored six straight concluding with his and-one in the lane, Tatum took over.

He drove the lane and finished with his left hand over three defenders. He plowed his chest straight through overmatched veteran George Hill for a three-point play that pushed the lead to seven. Moments later, after Marcus Smart drew a charge, Tatum drilled a 3 in Hill's face, earning a call of, "Cold-blooded Jayson Tatum!" from TNT's Brian Anderson.

He wasn't done. Grayson Allen gave the Bucks a final flicker of a life with a 3-pointer with three minutes left to make it 106-99. Tatum then exhibited some Giannis-like footwork to step through a double team and bank a falling right-handed scoop from the left block.

In less than two minutes, he had scored 10 points to keep the Bucks at bay. It was exactly how a superstar is supposed to close out a game -- efficiently, inexorably, ruthlessly.

And make no mistake, Jayson Tatum is a superstar. The Celtics won't advance without contributions from their role players, for sure, but they're not even in the conversation without Tatum.

They're knocking on the door of Banner 18, and Tatum is ready to kick that sucker down.