The Boston Celtics had back-to-back statement wins Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks and Saturday night against the Thunder. They may not have necessarily been heard league-wide, but they were big time victories for a team who was struggling to stay afloat.
Friday night proved to them, even after losing in Milwaukee on a missed buzzer beater two nights prior, that they could compete with the Bucks getting a much need road win. And right on cue, Jayson Tatum was the one who stepped up for the team and carried them over the finish line.
Tatum finished the road trip with two All-Star stat lines. Against the Bucks, he had 34 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds while going 4-7 from three. The three-pointers were what set the Celtics apart in that one. Tatum contributed with his four as the team shot 22-47 from beyond the arc. They were just letting them fly which is a winning formula against this Milwaukee team: live and die by the three and match their offensive production. Tatum was able to do that impacting baskets every time he was on the floor.
Against Oklahoma City, he took over in a similar form. Tatum struggled in the first half as the team let the Thunder stick around. That was until he finished the game with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, another night for Tatum knowing his role taking over the game on his own offensively.
Tatum came into the game against Milwaukee with an aggressive mindset that led his offensive production. He drove to the basket more which led to opportunities of distributing the ball around to find open shooters. It was one of his better playmaking and efficient nights in some time.
Here is a great look at what goes on in a defender’s head when guarding Tatum. Khris Middleton has already been blown by him a few times, but Tatum still has the threat of a side-step three-point attempt. Because of that, after Robert Williams gives him a great screen, Middleton already tries to jump the screen and get through. However, Tatum goes the other way for the drive. Middleton is already off-balanced and behind him. It is an easy step over and layup in the paint.
In the first matchup with Milwaukee on Wednesday, Tatum struggled finding his shot from deep. It impacted his ability to take over the game. Friday night, Tatum started out aggressive and then built off of his more comfortable midrange then built the rhythm to step back and hit the important and crucial three-balls.
“I tried to be a bit more aggressive today attacking the rim more and it opened up the game a bit more,” Tatum said. This mindset shift was noticeable all night. With Tatum taking the lead, it opened up the offense to others understanding they did not need to play hero ball. It affects the roster top down and had the same effect in Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
This style and understanding opened Tatum up to become a great distributor as well. He took the pressure multiple times from the Bucks and Thunder and found open teammates that were able to knock down clutch shots. Tatum will attract the double team and find the open shooter or cutting Lob Rob Williams for the slam like the clip below. It is some great looking basketball when it is all clicking.
This is the exact basketball the Celtics want to play: Tatum being the All-Star focal point most nights and then the other players around him ready to step up when called upon. On Friday, the offense exploded from Marcus Smart with 23 points, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown with 21 and 18 points, respectively. This all comes from confidence flowing through the roster and ball movement being the main focus. Tatum said it plainly, “find the best shot for each teammate.”
Friday and Saturday night aside, this team will need to continue to play like this version of themselves for the rest of the season. While hovering around .500, they really do not have the luxury of hitting another swoon in the schedule. Evan Fournier is going to be a great offensive injection and then possibly someone from the buyout market, too. Specifically, a night like Friday in Milwaukee only goes to show that they can still compete with anyone. With Jayson Tatum playing like that and the teammates around him stepping up, the Celtics are getting some positive momentum going heading into a seven-game homestand.