Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
The pressure is on for Jayson Tatum, but he didn’t care during the Boston Celtics’ 117-101 victory to open their second-round battle with the Philadelphia 76ers. His 28 points, three rebounds and two assists on 8-of-16 shooting from the field spoke volumes.
Though the C’s rookie has largely been overshadowed in the Rookie of the Year race by second-round opponent Ben Simmons and Utah Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell, he’s been yet another first-year player enjoying a fantastic inaugural campaign. He’ll likely finish third in ROY voting (deservedly so for an award based solely on the regular season), but that’s not a knock on his talent.
Might he be submitting stronger numbers if he were playing on a weaker team that could ask him to fill a takeover role more regularly? If Game 1 of this current clash is any indication, he very well could be. Maybe he’s only held back by Boston’s egalitarian system.
Brian Babineau/Getty Images
With Joel Embiid attempting to dissuade Al Horford from shooting too frequently and the Sixers throwing a host of bigger defenders at Terry Rozier, Tatum entered this affair with his team’s most favorable matchup. He drew JJ Redick out of the gates, which gave him the opportunity to take advantage of a mismatch and punish Philadelphia whenever it didn’t switch a more adept defender onto him.
Throughout the contest, and especially during the second quarter, that worked wonders.
Tatum twice began his experience in the Eastern Conference semifinals by driving to his right against Redick and forcing Embiid to help from the weak side. Both times, he drew whistles and earned trips to the charity stripe. But his game expanded as the Celtics placed more and more trust in him, and he started hitting tough jumpers on the move and making timely backdoor cuts like the one below:
Duke on Duke crime as Jayson Tatum beats JJ Redick back door for the slam. https://t.co/WzcyufkoIQ
Everything worked in the second quarter as Tatum exploded for nine points, one rebound and one assist on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. He became the focal point of the Boston attack, and that alone shouldn’t be overlooked. This historic organization doesn’t tend to just hand over the reins to rookies in such pressure-packed moments, which speaks volumes to Tatum’s preparedness and natural nose for scoring.
With his 28-spot, he joined Larry Bird as one of only two rookies since 1964 to post such a lofty scoring tally during the postseason for this particular franchise. In fact, only 10 first-year players have ever notched double-digit points per game in the playoffs for the Celtics, and Tatum now ranks even more prominently among them:
- Tom Heinsohn (1956-57): 22.9 points per game in 10 appearances
- Larry Bird (1979-80): 21.3 points per game in eight appearances
- Jayson Tatum (2017-18): 17.0 points per game in eight appearances
- Brian Shaw (1988-89): 17.0 points per game in three appearances
- Bob Cousy (1950-51): 14.0 points per game in two appearances
- Bill Russell (1956-57): 13.9 points per game in 10 appearances
- Dee Brown (1990-91): 12.2 points per game in 11 appearances
- Mike Bloom (1947-48): 12.0 points per game in three appearances
- John Havlicek (1962-63): 11.8 points per game in 11 appearances
- Frank Ramsey (1954-55): 10.7 points per game in seven appearances
Over half those men are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and we should note the rookie in question is at least two years younger than anyone else at the time of their first playoff run.
Obviously, we’re not predicting Tatum will march all the way to Springfield. Not yet, at least. But he’s off to a fantastic start during his inaugural playoff run and is capably shouldering an important scoring role and forcing the Sixers to pay for not respecting him with more defensive attention.
Jayson Tatum crossover and finish! 👀
16-4 @celtics burst on @NBAonTNT
#CUsRise 43 | #PhilaUnite 33 https://t.co/IC2xYY7Us0
Already, it’s clear this youngster has every scoring tool imaginable. He’s comfortable in spot-up situations. He’s a smart cutter who understands space, angles and timing. He can create for himself on the perimeter, either side-stepping defenders running at him or attacking foes’ bodies en route to the basket.
This scoring onslaught isn’t going to stop anytime soon, and the Celtics shouldn’t have any qualms about handing him more keys to the offense.
Please Stop Underrating Al Horford
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
If you already think Horford is an All-Star big man who deserves serious Defensive Player of the Year consideration for his efforts in 2017-18, this probably doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re having trouble accepting the Celtics center as a legitimate stud, no matter how nondescript his per-game line may appear, then please take all of the following to heart.
Horford isn’t your traditional center. He’s not going to thrive on the glass, and you’ll rarely see him rack up monstrous double-doubles as a result. Throwing the ball into him on the post and letting him go to work is a seldom-used strategy by Boston.
But this former Atlanta Hawk can do everything, and that versatility was on full display in the 16-point victory. He finished with a strong 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists while going 10-of-12 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep and 4-of-4 from the stripe, and that still seems to sell him short.
Horford showcased exactly why he’s become the centerpiece for one of the league’s sting