The Boston Celtics sputtered into the NBA’s play-in tournament losing 10 of their final 15 regular-season games.
Jayson Tatum made sure the Celtics had a spot in the playoffs with a game-high 50 points.
With the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards, one of the hottest teams in the league, in a 118-100 play-in game contest Tuesday.
Boston will face second-seeded Brooklyn in the first round.
"I just said to our guys, 'Everybody’s path is different, and every year presents unique challenges, sometimes more than others,' " Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "We’ve been through a lot, so we’re hardened in a lot of ways. We’ve been backs against the wall for most of the year."
Tatum scored 32 of his 50 points in the second half. "He's going to be an MVP in this league soon," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.
Kemba Walker added 29 points, and the Celtics had too much firepower for the Wizards to handle, especially in final two quarters.
While neither team is healthy — the Celtics are without injured Jaylen Brown — Washington’s Bradley Beal was not 100% with a strained left hamstring and it showed. Beal had 22 points — nine below his season average — on 10-of-25 shooting.
Up next for the Celtics
The Celtics-Nets series starts Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC). The Nets won the season series 3-0. This is still a 2-7 matchup, but it brings plenty of intrigue. The Nets are the favorite but they’re still trying to find continuity between Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, who have played just eight games together this season. The Celtics have playoff experience with Tatum, Walker, Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson and have the ability to make it difficult for the Nets — which might not be a bad thing for the Nets, unless they lose the series.
"To have to play tonight just to earn the right to play probably the most talented team that’s been assembled since I’ve been in the NBA, it takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of togetherness and it takes staying together through tougher times," Stevens said. "Those guys are the best of the best. Going into that, if I’m a general fan of the NBA, I have a hard time seeing them lose. We’re going to have to play great, we’re going to have to play great together and we’re going to have to be really, really sound on both ends of the floor."
The Tatum-Walker show
The Wizards took a 54-52 lead into halftime. It disappeared in the blink of a Jayson Tatum jump shot.
The first four minutes of the third quarter were all Celtics, and mainly Tatum and Walker offensively. Boston opened the quarter with a 22-4 run for a 74-58 lead. Tatum had 13 points and Walker nine during that run, and Tatum had 23 of his 50 in the quarter.
"He can lead by not saying a word, he can lead by example and he can lead by doing what he did tonight," Stevens said.
Through three quarters, Tatum and Walker combined for 62 of Boston’s 90 points, and while the Celtics were just 33.3% on 3-pointers, Tatum and Walker made 11-of-26 3s.
Westbrook triple-double watch
Washington guard Russell Westbrook, the NBA’s all-time triple-double leader, notched 27 in his final 34 regular-season games, helping to revive the Wizards’ season.
He didn’t have that magic against the Celtics with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. He shot 6-for-18 from the field and had four turnovers and five fouls.
What’s next for the Wizards
The Wizards, who finished the regular season 17-6, still have a chance to make the playoffs. They will face Indiana on Thursday (8 ET, TNT) with the winner securing the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup against Philadelphia. The Pacers steamrolled Charlotte in the 9-10 play-in game and will need a similar performance to beat the Wizards, who won all three meetings this season, including a 154-141 victory on May 3 and a 133-132 double-overtime thriller on May 8.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jayson Tatum scores 50 points, Celtics beat Wizards for No. 7 seed