Los Angeles is all about star power.
And even amongst LeBron James, Anthony Davis and all the celebrities sitting courtside, it was Jayson Tatum who was the brightest star inside the Staples Center Sunday afternoon.
The 21-year-old forward was nothing short of remarkable against the Lakers, as Tatum was near unstoppable for a majority of the game to tie a career-high with 41 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
A standout showing like this isn’t anything new from Tatum anymore. He has sustained these peak performances this season as he continues his meteoric ascension into a rarified echelon in the NBA.
“Tatum has reached a new height, man. Superstar level,” Jaylen Brown said. “We all got to continue to improve and go with him. The way he’s playing is unreal. ... It was a joy to watch him. I wish we would have got the win, but to come in here and do what he did to the Lakers, not too many people can say they did that.”
In just his first two seasons, Tatum showed flashes of his potential, but only registered just one game with at least 30 points. The 6-foot-8 Tatum has refined his array of offensive tools in his third NBA season to become a potent, high-volume scorer. He notched his ninth performance with at least 30 points this season in the 114-112 loss to the Lakers.
“That’s what he does,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens as Tatum is averaging 30 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 47 percent shooting from beyond the arc to go along with eight rebounds, according to StatMuse. “I realize that’s his career high, but he’s been that level for us for a long time now.”
Tatum netted only one point in the first quarter Sunday before exploding for 36 over the next two frames. Tatum scored in a variety of ways, too. He has developed into a strong 3-pointer shooter, and again knocked down the long-range shots consistently, even hitting what has become his patented step to the side trey that he sank in the face of Davis in the second quarter.
But what is most noticeable in Tatum’s rise is his ability to finish around the rim, doing so with a plethora of moves. Tatum made a concerted effort to drive to the hoop more frequently this year after settling for jumpers to often during his sophomore campaign. And after some growing pains at the beginning of the season when he would put erratic shots all over the basket on drives, he is now turning those blow-bys into an art form.
It was almost like he was in slow-motion when he attacked the bucket in the first half. One time getting Kyle Kuzma on a switch, he drove hard to his right, showing tremendous poise to pump-fake and step-through before finishing with his left hand. Tatum didn’t have that move a year ago.
Another time he blew by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and lifted a high-arching layup over Dwight Howard, who came over to contest the attempt. Tatum was just hitting his stride as he unleashed a ferocious spin move on Alex Caruso, hung in the air as he absorbed contact from Howard — Tatum’s pulled this levitation move out of his bag a few times now — and finished from within close.
Those highlight-reel baskets have demonstrated Tatum’s new-found aggressiveness, as has his ability to get to the free-throw line. In his first two seasons, Tatum attempted a mere 3.1 free throws a game. Tatum had frequent flyer miles to the charity stripe versus the Lakers as he made 13-of-15 attempts.
Tatum doesn’t seem to be getting lost or overwhelmed by the responsibility that his star-studded performances carry. He has seen his role models like James and Kawhi Leonard do what he is in the midst of doing, as Tatum just wants to show that he can be like them.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Tatum said. “I definitely look up to those guys and know how great they are individually. Just trying to earn the respect of the guys that I look up to.”
Tatum's shares that the Celtics/Lakers game was definitely for Kobe pic.twitter.com/VksYfnWhor— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 24, 2020
Tatum definitely earned the respect of the Lakers, who constantly threw double teams at him in the second half that the Celtics didn’t adjust well to. Tatum, who sat for a good portion of the fourth quarter and scored only four points in the final frame, said it was the first time he had seen double teams like that in his NBA career. The double teams could become more common going forward and it will just be something else Tatum will have to adapt to.
That kind of attention just shows how far Tatum has come in a relatively short amount of time and as Tatum continues his climb into a different stratosphere each game, his ceiling only grows higher.
“He’s been really good for us and certainly I think he has taken it to another level,” Gordon Hayward said. “He’s been tremendous for us. We’re going to need him to continue to be tremendous.”
And that’s what being a superstar is all about, generating these types of performances game after game and Tatum has shown worthy of the label.