By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Heading into Tuesday night’s play-in game against the Wizards, some were questioning Jayson Tatum’s ability to lead the Boston Celtics. The biggest knock — if it is even a knock — on the 23-year-old is that he doesn’t show enough emotion on the court.READ MORE: Patriots Release Kicker Roberto Aguayo, Long Snapper Wes Farnsworth
But with a trip to the NBA playoffs there for the taking, Tatum let his play do all the talking against Washington. And while his demeanor may be quiet, his play on Tuesday was deafening.
Tatum led Boston to the postseason with a 50-point explosion against the Wizards, looking like a superstar throughout the 118-100 Celtics victory. After halftime, he simply would not let his team lose. He scored almost half of his points in the third quarter, dropping 23 in the frame, turning a two-point Boston deficit at halftime into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth.
After starting the game 2-for-8 in the first quarter, Tatum turned it on and never looked back. He hit five of his 12 attempts from downtown, and when he wasn’t hitting shots from deep, he was eagerly attacking the basket. When he does that, Tatum hits that next level of greatness.
Five of his 14 makes came from inside the paint, and he hit all 17 of his free throws on the evening, which is a new career-high for Tatum. Seeing Tatum attack the rim over and over again made teammate Tristan Thompson an extremely happy man.
“He had it rolling and he’s a stud,” Thompson said after the win. “We know what he can do, and he has to set the tone early for us.”
Tuesday night’s outburst was the third game where Tatum scored 50 or more points this season, and each of those have come in the last 39 games, highlighted by a 60-point evening in an overtime win against the Spurs. That was another game where Tatum put the team on his back and led them to victory. Boston’s young star is now just one 50-point game shy of matching Larry Bird’s record for the most in Celtics history.
All that was missing from Tuesday’s win was Tatum shouting “Are you not entertained?” to his doubters. But that isn’t his style. He doesn’t need to scream and yell to lead the Celtics, and that was on full display against the Wizards.READ MORE: Celtics Host Six Players For Pre-Draft Workout, Including Auburn's Sharife Cooper And Texas A&M's Jordan Hall
Of course, Tatum himself played down the performance when asked if it helps his “superstar status.” Because that is his style.
“I guess it helps. I don’t really get caught up in those who think I am a superstar and those who don’t,” he said. “What does that really mean? I know that my teammates, I’ve earned their respect and I’ve earned the respect of the guys I play against and coaches. I believe in myself and that’s all that matters.”
But those who had a front row seat for the performance had a lot more to say about Tatum’s big night.
“Tatum is a great player. Not a great young player — a great player,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “He’s going to be MVP in this league soon.”
“He’s right about that,” Kemba Walker said when asked about Brooks’ comments. “Jayson was special. He was unbelievable. It isn’t new to me; I’ve been watching this guy put in the work for the last year or two. I’m here for the ride and it’s fun.”
The win secured the 7-seed in the East for Boston, and now Tatum and the Celtics are moving on to the playoffs for a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
That will be no easy task, but for now, the Celtics will enjoy their big win — and the big night from their leader.MORE NEWS: WATCH: Tom Brady Once Again Is Not Afraid Of 'The Madden Curse'
“It’s always exciting to see him go off the way he did,” said Walker, who scored 29 points of his own on Tuesday. “We’re going to need that throughout the playoff run.”