BOSTON (CBS) — There will be a bit of a family feud in the upcoming Celtics-Cavaliers Eastern Conference finals matchup.
Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue will have to figure out some way to slow down Boston rookie Jayson Tatum, who has been turning heads as an offensive force all postseason. For Lue, Tatum’s performance has been fun to watch from afar, because he has a family connection to the 20-year-old. Lue is cousins with Tatum’s father, Justin, and has enjoyed watching “Little Jay” grow into an budding NBA superstar.
When Jayson was a kid, the Tatum family often made the two-hour drive from St. Louis to Mexico, Missouri to see Lue, frequenting his cookouts and annual 4th of July celebration. Justin shot Lue a text when the Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night, hoping to connect with his cousin during the series.
“Just seeing Little Jay when he was 6 or 7 years old and now to who he is today is crazy,” Lue told the media on Thursday. “Seeing the player he’s become, we knew he was going to be good, but now he’s at a whole new level. Just seeing him coming to Mexico and just coming to my barbecues and all that stuff and now he’s an NBA player and playing at a high level, it’s just good to see.”
Tatum, the third overall pick last June, has emerged as one of Boston’s star players throughout the season. He shouldered more responsibilities following Gordon Hayward’s injury on opening night, averaging 13.9 points in his 80 games during the regular season. The Celtics weren’t expected to do much this postseason after losing Kyrie Irving in April, but Tatum has taken his game to a whole new level. He’s scored 20+ points in seven straight games for Boston, the second-longest streak ever by a rookie, capped off by a 25-point night in Boston’s Game 5 win over the 76ers on Wednesday. He scored 10 of those points in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead layup for Boston with 22.5 seconds left.
Tatum has been baffling opposing defenses with an array of moves, looking more like a polished veteran than a rookie in his first postseason. Lue continues to be impressed by what Tatum can do on the floor, but he hopes those big nights don’t continue over the next two weeks.
“It’s tough because you want to see him do well, but not against you,” Lue said. “We just have to try to take him and be physical with him and not let him get easy baskets. He’s going to score because he can post and he can put it on the floor, but we just have to try to take away his easy baskets as much as possible.”
While Tatum has been playing some exceptional offense this postseason, Lue has the luxury of being able to throw LeBron James on him defensively. Having the best player on the planet blanketing him every possession may be enough to slow down the rookie’s momentum, but Lue knows that no moment is too big for his cousin.
“He’s not scared, he’s not afraid and he’s always been that type of kid,” Lue said. “He wants these type of moments and he’s taking advantage of it. With Kyrie and Gordon going down and him having a chance to play the minutes he’s been playing, starting and playing in the playoffs the way he has, he’s taken full advantage of it. But he’s never been scared, he’s never been afraid of the big moment. You can see that.”
The Celtics and Cavaliers tip off their Eastern Conference finals on Sunday in Boston.