On Thursday night, the Boston Celtics rattled off their fifth straight win with a 109-98 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Both teams were down key players, with the Nets missing superstar Kevin Durant and the Celtics missing both Jaylen Brown (right adductor strain) and Al Horford (low back tightness). Jayson Tatum finished the night with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists.
Following the game, Tatum was interviewed and spoke on the team’s performance, his leaked signature shoe design, and his health. “I think we just continued to play the right way the whole game until we kind of ran away with it,” said Tatum. “I give a lot of credit to the second unit that in the second quarter and the start of the fourth quarter.”
Boston’s bench gave the Celtics a spark on offense when they needed it, especially with Jaylen Brown out with injury. “From Luke, Sam, Malcolm, and Payton,” said Tatum, “The way those guys came in. They’re the reason we won tonight.” Without Brown, the Nets were keying in on Tatum defensively, throwing two bodies at him and finding ways to pressure him whenever the ball got to him. It was very similar to how the Warriors defended Tatum in the Finals.
Jayson Tatum "Everybody has to sacrifice to be on a great team... No individual stat or accolade can measure up to being on a winning team that's having fun" pic.twitter.com/pf5QYHMfVl— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 13, 2023
“Just continue to move, create space, move without the ball, set screens,” said Tatum when asked about how he counters that defense. “If I had iso, they were sending an extra one, blitzing the ball screen, so just things we are aware of going into games and things...just make the right read. I draw two, I drag them up, find an open man, play four on three, and pass up a good shot for a great shot.”
Tatum and the Celtics will have to learn to navigate this situation over the next few games with Jaylen Brown sidelined for at least a week with his adductor strain. Brown sustained the injury in his 41 point performance against the Pelicans on Wednesday night, and the following morning Joe Mazzulla gave an injury update and timeline for his recovery. But Brown is certainly not the only player dealing with an injury. “I have a lot of s*** going on,” said Tatum, who played with tape on his left wrist, thumb, and ring finger.
During his postgame, Tatum revealed the same wrist injury that was bothering him during the Finals reared its head again this season, and he’d also been dealing with other issues with his hand. “Something for me and Brad [Stevens] to fight about,” joked Tatum when asked if he would take some rest days, “So when it gets to that point, maybe you’ll see me sit out, maybe not.”
“Everybody is expected to do more [with Jaylen Brown out],” said Tatum, “Everybody has to step up. Guys get more of an opportunity, just gotta make the most out of it. Obviously, we need him to get to where we want to get to. But health is most important, we just gotta hold it down until he gets better.”
On his own injury, Tatum said “Obviously, everybody knew about my wrist during the Finals and I talked about it after. One game into the season, I remember, I hurt it against Philly, so I’ve been taping it ever since. Then issues with my thumb, and recently my ring finger, but Nick [Sang] just gotta keep trying to figure out ways to tape it and wrap it up.”
Health is the most important thing for the Celtics, and it’s clear with how the organization has handled Robert Williams that they’re aware of that. While it might not always be possible based on the schedule, Brad Stevens and Joe Mazzulla should put their heads together to build in some time off for one of their star players. If the goal is ultimately a championship, then getting their core guys some much-needed time off has to be the goal.
If the Celtics can manage Al Horford and Robert Williams’ workloads, then there’s still a chance for the team to do the same for Jayson Tatum, and even Jaylen Brown to a degree. All of the aforementioned players need to be close to 100% in order for the playoff run to be a meaningful one.