Jayson Tatum wouldn’t let that happen.
Tatum morphed into the team’s closer during the game’s most critical juncture as he sank two clutch baskets within 33 seconds to level the score and went on to net five more key points in overtime to propel the Celtics to a 122-119 victory. Tatum finished with 29 points on 10-of-24 shooting and added nine rebounds and six assists.
Tatum’s ascension into superstardom this season includes coming through for the Celtics in adverse situations and Boston has recognized Tatum’s penchant to deliver in big moments as well, so it’s no surprise the C’s looked to Tatum time and time again versus the Magic.
“I’m not afraid to take that shot even if it didn’t go in,” Tatum said. “Those are the moments I live for, but it’s all about game situation or a matchup, maybe, or who has it going.”
Tatum wasn’t having a noteworthy outing until he bailed the Celtics out. Thanks to a great tip out on an offensive rebound by Kemba Walker, Tatum splashed in a 3-pointer to get the Celtics within two and with plenty of time to get a defensive stop and one more offensive possession.
The Celtics took care of business on the defensive end and even with a timeout in his back pocket and the regulation clock inching toward triple zeroes, Brad Stevens let his team play things out because Boston knew who it was going to go to.
Walker, who had an abysmal 1-for-9 performance, made sure the ball wound up in the hands of Tatum on the right wing. Tatum displayed his composure with Markelle Fultz draped all over him and lost Fultz with a spin move to get to his preferred spot before knocking down a turnaround jumper with 4.2 seconds left to knot things up, 112-112.
“The big three off of the rebound was excellent and then the poise to get that shot and get to where he wanted to and take his time and score the ball was good too,” Stevens said.
Tatum could have stopped there and let someone else carry the load in the extra frame, but he continued to assert himself to assure a Celtics victory. Boston made sure Tatum kept on getting his touches in overtime by having him set picks for Marcus Smart at the top of the key to create a more favorable matchup for Tatum. He was also aggressive during overtime and got to the free-throw line, which is always a good sign that Tatum is very engaged and then he used a hard jab-step to create separation once again on Fultz before draining a 22-foot jumper.
“Every good player wants to shoot the last couple of shots,” Stevens said. “But I think he recognizes that there will be times where he’ll shoot it and times where he’ll have to dish it off. We have a unique team in that regard where we have a lot of different guys we can go to and will go to.”
But as the Celtics demonstrated against the Magic, Tatum is the No. 1 option when they need a basket.