The Boston Celtics extended their winning streak to nine games on Tuesday night, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers behind a readjusted offensive playstyle and the leadership of Jayson Tatum.

Going up against a potential playoff opponent in the No. 5-seeded 76ers, whom Boston defeated in two of three previous meetings, the Celtics needed to elevate their game up a notch. That’s where Tatum, an understated MVP candidate, stepped in and ensured Philadelphia’s chances of becoming the fourth team to defeat the Celtics at home, wouldn’t come to life.

At the same time, it helped Boston dodge the heat of explaining falling to a Sixers squad without the presence of last season’s league MVP Joel Embiid.

In the fourth quarter, as the Celtics rolled in with an 86-75 lead after three frames in the books, Tatum took ownership of the fourth quarter. The 25-year-old scored 15 points (29 total) in the final quarter, shooting 3-of-6 while getting to the line four times to help push Boston’s lead.

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Overall, Tatum recorded 11 free throw attempts, nearly five ahead of his 6.7 average this season. He attempted seven 3-pointers, draining only one, but made up by scoring 14 points inside the paint, leading an encouraging effort at displaying scoring versatility from the Celtics.

“I think this year we’ve done a really good job of just staying present,” Tatum told reporters after Boston’s 117-99 win over Philly, per NBC Sports Boston. “You know, we always talk about just getting a little bit better every single day. We’re not looking past anybody, we respect every opponent, regardless of national TV game or league pass or the best player’s out. We approach every game the same way and we’re not looking past anybody and I think that’s been beneficial for us so far.”

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Tatum’s performance highlighted two key signs that (if applied) will translate to a deep and improved playoff run from last season’s: efficient scoring and taking over in the fourth quarter. At times amid Boston’s playoff appearance, whether against the Atlanta Hawks, 76ers, and especially the Miami Heat, those two critical factors favored the opposition and hampered the Celtics.

It’s well established that Tatum sits among the top-tier superstars in the league today, therefore, when late-game situations get dicey, it should be up to the five-time All-Star to play repairman. In Tuesday night’s case, Boston attempted only 22 threes (shooting a poor 22.7%), which opened the door for Philadelphia to take over. But Tatum’s late-game rescue made hopes of maintaining the team’s win streak sustainable by fulfilling the role of a No. 1.

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That tone-setting call to action allowed the Celtics to go on a much-needed 15-0 run in the fourth quarter and seek points at the charity stripe rather than allowing the outside shot to determine Boston’s fate. It also — and more importantly — allowed the Celtics to realize that they’re the most lethal offensive unit in the NBA, not just because they can knock shots down from beyond the arc, but because they can score from anywhere at any time.

“It was good that we found different ways of winning and I think that’s something that some people are a little bit worried (about),” Kristaps Porzingis, who shot a game-high 12 free throws with 23 points, explained, per CLNS Media. “Like, ‘Oh, they only shoot threes, and what if they don’t fall?’ Tonight was a good example and we showed what we were capable of.”

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla, who has taken the flak for Boston’s costly inefficient outside shooting performances since taking over at the helm, was all smiles too when asked about his comfort level.

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“Very comfortable,” Mazzulla said while holding up the box score, per NBC Sports Boston. “It’s all right there. We’re very comfortable.”

Boston’s bigger-picture leap extends the team’s lead as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference to eight games over the No. 2-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers with 24 left scheduled.

Featured image via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images