It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but Tatum was able to shake off some struggles and give the Celtics a little bit of everything in his playoff debut.
BOSTON (CBS) — There have been very few occasions where Jayson Tatum has looked like an actual rookie for the Boston Celtics.
The third overall pick in last June’s draft, Tatum started the year as a teenager thrust into an expanded role when Gordon Hayward went down on opening night. He didn’t disappoint, handling just about every challenge that got in his way with relative ease.
Tatum continues to thrive now that he’s entered the most important part of his rookie campaign, even if there were a few bumps throughout his playoff debut on Sunday afternoon. The 20-year-old started hot, hit a wall, but came up with a pair of key plays in overtime during Boston’s 113-107 Game 1 win over the Bucks.
After scoring four straight for the Celtics at the beginning of the contest, Tatum missed his next seven shots. He shook off the struggles to hit some key baskets, including a three-pointer to close out the third quarter to push Boston’s lead to six (Khris Middelton hit a jumper with 0.8 left to cut into that lead, a preview of what was to come at the end of regulation). Tatum also scored Boston’s first four points of the final frame, but that was it for his scoring in regulation.
Luckily, Tatum saved two of his nicest plays for overtime. With the Celtics holding on to a 106-105 lead with 1:28 on the clock in extra time, Tatum took a feed from fellow youngster Terry Rozier at the top of the key. He put his head down and drove strong to the hoop, blowing by Middelton before jumping into Giannis Antetokounmpo under the hoop. Contorting his body, Tatum finished with a right-handed layup, a monster hoop for anyone, let alone a rookie. The incredible bucket gave the Celtics a three-point edge with 1:22 left to go.
To show he can get it done on both ends of the floor, Tatum came up big on defensively just under a minute later. He rejected a Malcolm Brogdon layup attempt under the basket to preserve Boston’s two-point lead with 27 seconds to go, and his teammates made their free throws the rest of the was to secure the win.
The ever-growing list of responsibilities that Tatum received throughout the regular season had him ready for the big moments on Sunday. He showed the maturity of a veteran player in crunch time, which is what head coach Brad Stevens expects out of the 20-year-old.
“Well I can say we expect it, because he’s shown it all year. It’s one of those things – those guys lived a lot of what the playoffs are about today,” noted Stevens. “The good news is they’ve got now a little bit of experience and know how hard it is, know how detailed you have to be to finish a team out, which we weren’t, obviously, at the end of regulation. And hopefully we’re better in that situation as the series goes on. But, it’s hard. It’s hard to win. And that’s what you learn in these games.”
Still, Tatum said he learned a valuable lesson when it comes to playoff basketball.
“It’s a long game and we understand that and both teams are playing extremely hard so it’s going to go down to the wire. That is what I really learned today, you can’t really take plays off because every possession matters,” said Tatum.
Tatum’s debut ended with a packed box score: 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and five turnovers. He joined some great company in Celtics playoff history, becoming the first Boston rookie to notch a 15-10 game since Larry Bird did back in 1980. And at 20 years and 43 days, he also became the second-youngest player in NBA history to record a double-double in a playoff game, behind only Carmelo Anthony (19 years, 331 days).