BOSTON (CBS) — Kyrie Irving is a bona fide NBA superstar, someone who’s proven to be more than capable of closing out games throughout his career. But on Wednesday night in Charlotte, his fourth-quarter services weren’t needed.
Instead, rookie Jayson Tatum continued his ascent to NBA stardom with a dynamite fourth quarter performance.
Of course, Irving’s 20 points led the team and were instrumental in Boston’s 102-91 victory over the Hornets, and he did hit a pair of shots in the final frame. But when it came to crunch time, Tatum handled the closer’s role with a grace not even seen in 19-year-old rookies.
With the Celtics up by four, Tatum ran the floor and slammed home an alley-oop from Terry Rozier.
A minute later, Tatum hit a pair of free throws to once again stretch a lead from four to six. A Tatum basket near the midway point of the fourth grew the Celtics’ lead to seven.
With less than four minutes to go and the Celtics leading by five, Tatum burst up the court following an Al Horford block. Marcus Smart sent the outlet pass to a streaking Tatum, who finished with authority.
Tatum hit a pair of free throws — he was 6-for-6 on the night from the stripe — to officially put the game out of reach with 1:40 left to play.
In total, Tatum played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points, grabbing three rebounds, making two steals and blocking one shot (from 7-footer Frank Kaminsky) in what was a complete effort for the rookie.
It was a performance that caught quite a bit of attention.
“The patience that he has, understanding what we’re trying to accomplish and knowing that when the game has to slow down, the spots that he needs to be in, the spots that he can take advantage of and being able to have the confidence to be put in that position,” an impressed Irving said. “He’s taking full advantage of it, so he just wants to continue to grow and learn like he’s been doing.”
Considering Tatum’s fourth-quarter burst came after he scored zero points in the third quarter (he was 0-for-1 and had a shot blocked), the rookie’s resolve stood out to head coach Brad Stevens.
“It’s really good for a young guy and it’s really good for anybody, but it’s a hard thing to do,” Stevens said of shaking off a bad quarter. “I always say I didn’t have the ability to let things fly off me and I think that is a really good quality to have.”
Tatum also scored eight points in the opening quarter, including this impressive drive:
With the win, the Celtics improved to 28-10 on the year, still sitting comfortably atop the Eastern Conference standings. On Thursday night at home, they’ll face the Rockets, one of just two teams with a better record than Boston at this point of the year.