Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket while...

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket while guarded by James Harden  and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets during Game Three on May 28, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Adam Glanzman

BOSTON — Celtics fans got their pound of Kyrie Irving’s flesh Friday night at TD Garden. They jeered him repeatedly during the course of a rough night in which he was held to 16 points and 6-for-17 shooting, and they enjoyed a 125-119 victory over the Nets that cut their first-round series lead to 2-1 heading to Game 4 on Sunday night.

The star of the show was Jayson Tatum, who scored 19 of his 50 points in the third quarter when the Celtics led by as much as 17 points and took control of the game. The Nets cut their deficit to 123-119 on a Kevin Durant three-pointer with 21.5 seconds left to play but could not come all the way back.

As far as Celtics fans were concerned, the villain was Irving, who shunned them two years ago to join the Nets in free agency and then mentioned after Game 2 that he hoped there "would be no racism going on" from the Boston crowd. When pressed about whether or not he has experienced racism in Boston, Irving added: "It is what it is. The world knows it."

This was Irving’s second game back in Boston, but there were no fans at the season opener on Christmas Day. Asked to describe the experience, Irving said: "I’ve been in a few environments in my life. As long as it’s just strictly the nature of basketball out there, it’s nothing extra. I’m cool with it. Going to get some preparation with the team tomorrow and then get prepared for Sunday, but want to keep it straight basketball."

James Harden led the Nets with 41 points and added 10 assists and seven rebounds, and Durant had 39 points and nine rebounds.

Tatum had a 16-for-30 shooting night for the Celtics, who also got 23 points from Marcus Smart and 19 points and 13 rebounds from Tristan Thompson.

Irving was the next-to-last Net introduced, and Celtics fans greeted him with a sharp increase in the volume of boos, but nothing out of the ordinary. The game marked the final one with just 25% capacity in the building, which is expected to have a sellout for Game 4 on Sunday. In that respect, the reception for Irving could have been far worse.

Needless to say, Irving heard a chorus of delighted boos when he missed an opening three-point attempt. That was followed a couple of minutes later by a brief "Kyrie sucks" chant. But it all was muted effectively when the Nets opened the game on a 19-4 run that included not a single point from Irving.

But after the Nets opened their early 15-point lead, Tatum, who struggled in the first two games, scored eight of the next 10 Celtics points to ignite an extended 43-26 run lasting deep into the second quarter to give the Celtics a 47-39 lead.

"I don’t think the crowd limited Ky," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "We all feel like we could have played better defensively. We didn’t get stops when it mattered. We gave up 125 points. It’s just too many big quarters for them. Not a great performance, but it could be good for us … to face a little adversity and go through some of these battles and challenges."

In the third quarter, the Nets tied the game at 75, but then Smart made a three-pointer and was fouled by Irving. While officials reviewed the play to determine if it was a flagrant foul, Celtics fans directed a vulgar chant at Irving, who waved back telling them to bring it on. Ultimately, Smart completed the four-point play, and it triggered a 21-4 run, including 11 Tatum points, to build a 96-79 lead over the Nets, who found themselves in a hole that was too deep.

Asked if the circus atmosphere distracted the Nets, Harden said: "Not one bit of distraction. That wasn’t something that even crossed our minds. We’ve got to play better, and we will in Game 4. This thing isn’t going to get easy for us. It’s going to be difficult. We expect that. Next game, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more fans.

"When we get leads like that, we’ve got to be even more locked in, more detailed. We let them line up threes, let them line up shots, and they made them tonight."

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