By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum is starting to play like he did last February when he had his best month as a pro. The Celtics star is shining the brightest that he has all season, and late Tuesday night, he lifted the Celtics to the team’s fourth straight win.READ MORE: Walker Scores 32 In Return From Injury, Celtics Rout Magic
It was an all-around effort for Boston as the team beat the Blazers, 116-115, in Portland. But when the game was on the line at the end, it was Tatum who rose up like a true leader, leading his team to another hard-fought victory.
When the Blazers went on a 13-4 run late in the game to take a 112-111 lead with 1:01 left, it was Tatum Time. He made a strong, spinning drive to the basket on Boston’s next possession, earning a trip to the line. He knocked down his two freebies to put Boston ahead, 113-112, and after Damian Lillard missed a jumper on the other end, Tatum went to work from downtown. He sized up C.J. McCollum just beyond the arc, and despite some good D from the Blazers guard, Tatum canned a side-step three in his face, a dagger of a shot that put the Celtics ahead for good.
The shot barely touched anything as it fell through the hoop with 7.8 seconds left. It didn’t matter when Norman Powell drained a three a few seconds later, and after some free throw mind games from Marcus Smart, the Celtics walked off the floor with another impressive road win — the team’s second straight.
After scoring just seven points in the first half, Tatum finished with 32 points on the night. He was Mr. Efficiency again, shooting 10-for-17 overall, but more impressive was his 9-for-12 shooting in the second half.
Tatum says he thinks he’s playing the same way he has all season, but he’s made a much bigger effort to get to the basket as of late. He got to the line 10 times Tuesday night, hitting eight of his free throws. He’s attempted 34 freebies in the last three games alone.
And while his winner came from behind the arc, Tatum didn’t rely heavily on the three-point shot throughout Tuesday’s game, going 4-for-7 from deep.READ MORE: Patriots Sign Undrafted Kicker Quinn Nordin
Tatum is fresh off an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, and that soon may become a Player of the Month award. Tatum is averaging 29 points off 50 percent shooting to go with 8.5 rebounds in six games in April, with Boston victorious in five of those contests.
Going back to his last 11 games, Tatum has reached the 20-point mark in each of them, with a pair of 34-point performances and a career-high 53 points last Friday against the T-Wolves. He’s flirting with the level of play he reached last February when he won a Player of the Month after averaging 30.7 points off 49.4 percent shooting to go with 7.9 rebounds.
After having a front row seat to the Tatum Show on Tuesday, Lillard and Carmelo Anthony had no choice but to share some respect for the 23-year-old after the game. They each said that Tatum is doing the same things they did when they emerged as superstars of the league.
That was not lost on Tatum after the win.
“I was in middle school and high school when those guys were in the league. I got the utmost respect for both of them and everything they’ve accomplished, especially Dame in recent years. Melo was one of my idols. Besides Kobe, he was one of my favorite players,” he said. “Anytime I get to talk to them, see them or play against them, I don’t take it for granted. … I enjoy getting respect from the guys I used to look up to and still look up to. That means a lot.”
The Celtics are suddenly a hot team, something we weren’t sure they were capable of just a week ago. This four-game win streak has them sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, just one game back of the four-seed.MORE NEWS: Wells Fargo Championship Preview: 'Quail Hollow Tests You From The First Hole,' Says CBS Sports' Frank Nobilo
“I just like the way that we’re playing,” said Tatum. “Every game is important right now and we know it’s coming down to the stretch. Obviously, we want to win, but I think for myself playing the right way and feeling good about ourselves — we’re not going to win every game, but we’re for sure playing the right way and trending in the right direction.”