BOSTON -- When Saturday's game was on the line and the Brooklyn Nets began to overload on Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum took over by scoring the last five points as Boston pulled out an 87-85 nail-biter.
The points scored by Tatum down the stretch were huge, obviously. But the fact that Tatum was being so aggressive at attacking the rim most of the game was even more encouraging.
Although he was 6-for-15 shooting, the 15 shots tied his career high in field-goal attempts. And this season, more shot attempts has been a good thing for both Tatum and the Celtics. Boston is 16-4 when Tatum takes 10 or more shot attempts.
In the three games Tatum has played in 2018, he has averaged 12 shot attempts per game, which speaks to his increasing confidence to not just take good shots but also the confidence his teammates have in him to come through in the clutch.
"He's supposed to; wide open in the corner," said Kyrie Irving, referring to his pass to Tatum for what turned into the game-winning basket. "Rookie or not, better make the shot. Step in and shoot it with confidence; that's what he has been doing."
Here are five takeaways from Boston's 87-85 win over Brooklyn.
DEFENSE ELITE AGAIN
The Celtics had a few not-so-great defensive performances in December, but the flipping of the calendar has brought about a reinvigorated Celtics defense. The 87-85 win over Brooklyn was the third straight game the Celts held a team to fewer than 90 points and the fifth time in their last six games an opponent was kept to less than 100 points.
KYRIE ON THE BOARDS
We know Kyrie Irving can score. We know he can pass.
While it may not necessarily pop up as one of Irving's biggest strengths, it certainly has been one of late. Against the Nets, Irving only -- yes, only -- grabbed six rebounds, which clues you in to where his board game is right now. In each of Boston's two previous games, Irving grabbed nine rebounds.
For as much as Jayson Tatum deserves credit for the scoring he did down the stretch, another rookie, Semi Ojeleye, deserves props for the job he did defensively particularly down the stretch. Ojeleye is an atypical defensive specialist who has the strength to keep Jahlil Okafor from backing him down and getting to his sweet spot on the floor, to switching defensively on to a quick, attacking guard like Spencer Dinwiddie and not missing a beat.
By no means did the Celtics play flawless basketball Saturday. But they did as good a job as we've seen this season in limiting mistakes. Boston turned the ball over just five times, which is a season low for the Celtics. Even though the Nets are 29th in the league in opponent turnovers (12.9), that still doesn't take away or diminish the job Boston did in playing for the most part, mistake-free basketball.
It's easy to get caught up in his eight points and team-high 10 rebounds and chalk it up to Theis having a good game. But a deeper dive reveals his contributions from a defensive standpoint were even more important to the Celtics win. He played just under 19 minutes but wound up contesting 11 shots -- only two of his teammates contested more shots and they both logged more than 20 minutes of court time. And to top things off, Theis had a team-best defensive rating of 63.0 for the game.