By: Kenny Doyle
When the Celtics drafted Jayson Tatum 3rd overall in June’s NBA Draft, they had clear hopes that one day he and teammate Jaylen Brown would form a wing duo that would dominate on both ends of the floor, overwhelming teams with their athleticism and versatility. They knew Tatum could score and surely hoped that Brown could emerge as an offensive threat in the future, but never could have thought they’d see them both playing the way they did against the Knicks this quickly.
In only his 4th career NBA game, Jayson Tatum put on an absolute 2 way clinic. Tatum is the 2nd youngest player in NBA history behind only Dwight Howard to have 22 points, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in a game. The three point shot was becoming somewhat of an issue for Tatum as he had made only one through the first three games of the season and shooting on 20% from deep before tonight, but changed all of that with a 4-6 performance from beyond the arc against the Knicks. This will be a hard performance for Tatum to top this season, but having a game like this so early in his season is a great sign and will just give Brad Stevens more confidence in relying on Tatum moving forward.
For Brown, there was a focus on scoring from the start. It was clear Brown was out to give himself a great 21st birthday present. Brown scored 13 of his 23 points in the first quarter and continued to attack every time he touched the ball. Brown has been the surprise of the season for the Celtics. Many people in and around the NBA didn’t think Brown could ever be this kind of player offensively, nevermind doing this in just his second season. Through 4 games, Brown is now averaging 18.8 ppg and he continues to show the coaches and the fans that he wants to be the second option on this team with Gordon Hayward down with his injury.
The discipline and poise that both Tatum and Brown show on the defensive end of the floor as 1st and 2nd year players is incredible. The Celtics made a clear effort to value defensive versatility in their draft selections above all else and may have came away with the best defender in the 2014, 2016, and 2017 drafts and for both players to be flashing this kind offensive talent to go along with the defense at this point in their careers is really something special. The duo became the first pair of Celtics players 21 or younger to score over 20 points in the same game. With all the amazing players the Celtics have had in their history, that is truly a remarkable accomplishment. Tatum and Brown gave Celtics fans a real glimpse at what the future looks like and it is even brighter than we may have thought.
The Celtics were expected to be a top 2 seed in the East and Tatum and Brown were supposed to be role players on this team. Even with Gordon Hayward out, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are both still healthy and playing. Those two were thought to be the ones leading the way, but tonight it was Tatum and Brown that were first and second in scoring and leading the team in minutes. Tonight, the young guys were the ones carrying the team and Irving and Horford were the role players.
However, there was one person who didn’t have anything nice to say about Tatum and Brown: Brad Stevens. Despite their amazing performances, coach Stevens was reluctant to give any praise to Tatum and Brown after the game. When directly asked praise their performances by Abby Chin, Brad responded, “I’ll give them the reality and let everyone else praise them… There are obstacles that come with youth and praise is one of them.” It’s an odd comment to hear after two career nights, but what Brad is doing is smart.
While it was a great night for Tatum, Brown, and Celtics fans, next game Tatum and Brown could just as easily fail to score double digits. As young players in the NBA, especially ones on a team trying to win, there are going to be high highs and low lows. A game like this is great to watch, but getting all that praise from everywhere and then struggling in the next game can really shake a player's confidence.
Brad Stevens hates high highs and low lows as well as low confidence. He tries to keep a steady pace all season. A game like this will get Brown and Tatum lots of praise, but ultimately the most important thing to Brad Stevens is that his young players don’t let this game go to their heads. He needs them to continue to play the roles they’re asked to play, even if that doesn’t mean scoring performances like they had tonight. Tatum and Brown aren’t superstars yet, but it’s nice to see what the future could look like, even if it is for just one night.
Photo: (Providence Journal)