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Jayson Tatum’s meteoric rise continues versus Timberwolves

Tatum looked loose, confident, and perfectly poised in the clutch.

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Jayson Tatum has been enjoying 2020 so far, raising his game to uncharted heights since the turn of the year, culminating in his first All-Star appearance this past weekend. Evidently, he’s just getting started, evidenced by his performance in Minnesota last night.

Sporting a brand new tattoo across his shoulders, Tatum showed no signs of the soreness or restrictive movement fresh ink can cause. Quite the contrary actually, he looked loose, confident, and perfectly poised in the clutch.

Notching a double-double, Tatum finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists. As the game descended into a foulathon in the fourth quarter, Tatum should have continued to attack having finished the game a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, he looked a steady option whenever drawing contact.

Tatum got most of his attempts around the rim. Continually driving past his man, forcing the defense to react, he was playing with the confidence of a young guy fresh off his first All-Star appearance. When he wasn’t attacking the hoop, he was doing what he does best from deep. Continually coming off pin downs to receive the ball in motion, or sizing his man up off the dribble before firing a dagger from beyond the arc.

Tatum shot chart vs T-Wolves
Tatum shot chart vs T-Wolves

Boston entered the game a man down with Kemba Walker sitting this one out with knee soreness. That placed Tatum as the team’s primary offensive weapon and he answered the call in the first quarter. Leading the team with seven points and four rebounds, spreading out his production between a made three, an inside make, and two at the free-throw line.

That three ball was a beauty, making use of that now patented step-back jumper he makes look so easy.

As the game wore on, Boston’s egalitarian offense continued to pound away at the Timberwolves. With four players all on their game it was making life easier for every Celtic on the floor. Every basket was punishing a missed rotation or slow reaction, causing the Timberwolves defense to become tentative.

When defenses start seconding guessing switches, rotations get missed, or ghosted cuts go unnoticed. Allowing for easy buckets or passes to further turn the screw, it becomes a black-hole, sucking the confidence out of them on every made shot. This allows the offense to play freely, knowing that someone has the mismatch and the help rotation is either not coming or is coming late.

If the rotation did arrive on time, it was no problem for Tatum, taking what the defense gave him. Half court sets weren’t the only factor for him in this game either, as he ran the break in a flash, leading to some easy dunks throughout the course of the game.

He also displayed some nice hesitation moves, getting the defense out of their sneakers, then driving to the hoop with reckless abandon. Those hesitation moves are becoming easier for him due to the threat he poses when pulling up form anywhere.

As you can see from the above play, this success was based on a pick, something that Tatum has been increasingly utilizing over the last couple of months. Synergy is tracking Tatum as a ball handler in the PnR on 23.4 percent of his possession, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 54.5 percent when adjusting for threes. This is ranking him among the top 11 percent of the league so far and it’s looking increasingly likely he will keep climbing over the final third of the season.

His teammates performances throughout the game--Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Daniel Theis all scored at least 25 points--clearly impacted how the defense was playing, in turn opening up more opportunities for Tatum to affect the game. Marcus Smart was their metronome, keeping things ticking throughout, while Hayward continued his streak of torching the Timberwolves, seemingly taking great pleasure in doing so. Then there was Daniel Theis, continually growing in influence and stature on both ends of the floor, having himself a career night. Finally, Jaylen Brown, the equally impressive, much improved running mate of Tatum who will lead Boston into a new generation, also played an impressive game.

Tatum is rising to stardom before our very eyes, every night he is answering the call. On nights like last night however, he has his teammates to thank. Their performances continue to make life that little bit easier for him.

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