Late in the second quarter, with the Boston Celtics up 51-41, Pascal Siakam backed down Jayson Tatum in the post. Siakam got down to just above the restricted area, turned into Tatum, and went up for a layup.
Tatum gave him a slight bump, Siakam missed the bucket, but just as the ball was rolling off the rim, a whistle was blown. And Tatum was not happy.
He immediately walked toward the sideline opposite to the Celtics bench in frustration, clearly angry at the call. Tatum definitely gave Siakam a little bump, but the contact was marginal, and the whistle was clearly late. It was a classic “only a foul if the ball doesn’t go in” call.
Siakam hit one of his two free throws, but what happened next was important.
On the very next possession, Tatum got the ball, immediately took Siakam into the post, backed him down, and drew a foul. Jakob Poeltl got called for a reach-in, but Tatum’s intent was clear. He was playing angry.
Rather than wallow in annoyance after getting a foul called on him, he waltzed to the other end of the court and forced the refs to give him a call, too. And unlike Siakam, he nailed both his free throws.
“I think that’s been a strength of our team this year — our ability to not allow things that aren’t going our way affect our execution and our mindset,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. “I think that’s an area where Jayson’s really grown, and he’s using that energy towards the physicality and the execution on both ends of the floor. And our team has done a good job of that this year as well.”
In the final minute of the quarter, Tatum stayed angry, and it led to two very different results.
The unfortunate outcome of the two was a heavily contested step-back three. He was still frustrated, and he forced up an ill-advised shot. (It was a two-for-one opportunity, but a bad shot, regardless.)
But on the flip side, with just eight seconds left in the half, Tatum got the ball, drove the full length of the court, got by everybody on the Raptors, and made an easy layup. The aggression led to a bucket.
Instead of channeling his frustration into complaints, Tatum is honing in on his aggressiveness. That’s great news for the Celtics, bad news for opposing teams, and (probably) music to the ears of NBA referees everywhere. (Until they’re forced to give Tatum the make-up calls he seeks out.)