What does Point Tatum look like? The Boston Celtics found the answer to that question behind a Tatum offensive masterclass in the absence of Kemba Walker, Payton Pritchard, and Marcus Smart. Unfortunately, the Celtics weren’t able to down the Sacramento Kings, losing 116-111 behind 26 points and 11 assists from De’Aaron Fox.
Jayson Tatum was an offensive genius tonight, scoring with ease in a number of ways behind several moves. He missed a triple-double by 1 rebound, notching 27 points, 9 boards and 10 assists. He very clearly made his teammates better, with the offense humming to the tune of a smooth song whenever he was on the floor. This was sorely needed because of the lack of guard depth, but this level of playmaking is something Tatum’s going to want to keep in his arsenal. We should all be thankful for what the 2020 Playoff run did to Tatum’s career.
For the second game in a row Tristan Thompson has played like the player the Celtics signed him to be. It’s clear that being on the West coast does wonders for his game (gee, I wonder why California energizes him . . .). He scored a season-high 17 points to go with 10 rebounds. Thompson played with an effective combination of mobility and forceful strength that allowed him to bully Sacramento’s frontcourt on both ends at times.
Thompson wasn’t the only big man to stand out for Boston. Game by game, Daniel Theis (11-4-4) looks more and more comfortable operating at the 4, and his shooting is remaining relatively consistent. Robert Williams (9 points, 8 rebounds) also looked fantastic tonight; when he’s exerting his physicality, Boston’s defense goes to another level.
Unfortunately, Boston’s defense started to take a nosedive after Williams checked out late in the second quarter. For a stretch that extended into the third quarter, Boston’s defense went from extremely physical and difficult to solve to almost a red carpet. Ironically, that’s how Sacramento was defending Boston for most of the first half.
Jaylen Brown (21 points) struggled from the field for the second game in a row, but he stayed aggressive all night and turned around his shooting woes in the second half. He created the same amount of space and looks as usual; they just didn’t fall as efficiently. Jeff Teague continued his season-long struggle, but Boston doesn’t have much choice but to rely on him. Tremont Waters gave the team good minutes, but as has been the case in his brief career, he does everything extremely well except for getting shots to fall. Carsen Edwards gave really solid minutes as well.
Everybody ate for the Kings as the game wore on., but Harrison Barnes (24 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) stood out as a player who keyed some Kings runs. As one of the leading TPE candidates, Barnes nailed his audition. He seems like he’d slot in almost perfectly into Boston’s lineup, functioning as a great leader who can shoot and defend the ball extremely effectively. I would not complain at all if Boston and Sacramento were to pull a trigger on that move.
Tyrese Haliburton (21 points) went two spots ahead of where Boston picked in the 2020 NBA Draft, but he played like he should have gone 10 spots ahead. All that’s to say that he played great, especially as he keyed the Kings to a strong third quarter. He’s going to have a long career of torturing the Celtics with his length, basketball IQ and deep shooting.
Boston was mostly in control in the first half, especially in the Tatum + bench minutes early in the second. Tatum put on a show all game long, but that was when he was at his best almost every possession. Boston’s defense failed to show up early in the third, leading to a 9-0 Kings run in under 3 minutes. The Celtics responded with a 19-4 run immediately after behind Tristan Thompson’s energy and playmaking from the Jays. Then the Kings responded with a 10-0 run.
It’s a game of runs!
The Tatum + bench lineup got off to more of a shaky start as the refs started to assert their presence more, but that group gained their footing as the quarter wore on, especially behind Tremont Waters and Robert Williams. Jayson Tatum came alive midway through the fourth from a scoring standpoint and put up buckets in a hurry. De’Aaron Fox matched him, scoring buckets in a hurry for Sacramento.
Down the stretch, Boston couldn’t contain Fox. A missed goaltend call ended up being costly, and Boston didn’t have enough to pull out the win despite Tatum’s offensive excellence. It’s another disappointing loss that was entirely preventable, but Boston still needs to see what this team looks like when the gang is all healthy. It’s important to remember that the Celtics are playing for June and July this year, not February.
The Celtics play the Los Angeles Clippers next on Friday evening at 10:30PM EST on ESPN.