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CelticsBlog Player of the Week #19: Jayson Tatum

Jayson Tatum rose to the occasion in the second half of the Celtics’ wins over Portland and Atlanta

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last week was something of a rebound week for the Boston Celtics. On Monday, the Celtics closed out their back-to-back with their third overtime period in two nights — as well as their second loss. From there, though, they rebounded nicely. Wednesday saw them score a much-needed blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and on Sunday, they kicked off a six-game road trip with a shootout victory against the Atlanta Hawks. A nice little 2-1 week, leading to some positive momentum.

Let’s get into our field of candidates for Player of the Week.

Honorable Mentions:

Emerging as a bit of a curiosity this past week was Blake Griffin, who appears — at least for the moment — to have supplanted Grant Williams in Joe Mazzulla’s rotation. Griffin has carved a role for himself by doing the little things; cliché though it may sound, he’s playing with effort and doing a lot of the little things. He’s a canny and willing passer and screen, and spaces the floor out to the three-point line. With Williams struggling and injured, he’s provided some valuable minutes for this team over the past few games.

Elsewhere, Derrick White responded to his return to the starting lineup with a couple of nice games, scoring 21 points against Portland and 18 against Atlanta. Al Horford and Sam Hauser have continued to bomb away from deep, connecting on 14 combined threes across the week. Malcolm Brogdon shined against Cleveland and Atlanta, but scuffled to the tune of a 2-of-13 night against the Blazers.

In all, it may not be the most exciting pick, but we’re back to the team’s top dog for this week’s award.

CelticsBlog Player of the Week #19: Jayson Tatum

2 GP, 32 PTS (55% FG, 46% 3PT), 11 REB, 4 AST, +34

A night off seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for Jayson Tatum — perhaps literally, coming on the second night of a back-to-back after two overtime periods against the Knicks. It’s been tough sledding for the Celtics’ superstar since the All-Star Break. Across his past six games, he’s shot better than 41% from the field just once, in the win over Cleveland to begin the month of March. He’s simply looked gassed, and irrespective of the never-ending debate over “load management” in the NBA, it’s hard to argue that Tatum — who perpetually ranks at or near the top of the league in minutes play — couldn’t benefit from some rest.

After sitting out the Cavaliers game, Tatum looked particularly spry. Against the Blazers and Hawks, he put together a pair of efficient 30+ point outings that resembled his early season, MVP-candidate form more than his recent struggles.

This Celtics team goes as Tatum does, and it’s not a coincidence that their roughest stretch of the season has come when he’s been in his worst form. Tatum is the kind of player who can step into virtually any matchup and perform like he’s the best player on the floor, and when he’s done that, the Celtics win. In the playoffs last year, he outdueled Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler en route to the NBA Finals. This week, it was Damian Lillard and Trae Young who fell victim.

Against Portland, Tatum guided the Celtics to a wire-to-wire win. After a high-octane offensive first quarter for both teams, the Blazers weren’t able to keep up the rest of the way. While double-digit comebacks may not be as rare as they once were — every fan in the league feels like their favorite team blows too many leads — it’s true that the Celtics have had issues closing out games at times. For these two games, at least, they put those issues behind them.

That starts with Tatum. Against Portland, he scored all 14 of his second-half points in the third quarter, slamming the lid shut on any hopes of a Blazers comeback and allowing the Celtics to empty the bench the rest of the way. Against Atlanta, it was the fourth quarter where he went to work — he scored 11 points in the frame, all timely buckets that fended off a Hawks surge and prevented them from drawing within a single possession of the lead down the stretch.

Tatum’s three-point shooting remains a bit of an enigma, holding steady at 35% for the second straight year. That number obviously undersells his actual talent level as a shooter, but the volume and difficulty of the shots he takes keep his percentages somewhat deflated. There’s value in this, as the heavy coverages he faces on a nightly basis help open up opportunities for his teammates — you have to defend him, because there’s always the threat that he’ll drop half a dozen threes on you, as he did against Portland. Still, at his size and skill level, he’s tremendously effective in the mid-range and off of post-ups, and it feels like those elements could be incorporated a little bit more within the Boston offense.

Admittedly, given the time of this writing, the Celtics’ loss to Houston — the first of the next week’s slate of games — puts a bit of a damper on his performances last week. The momentum feels a bit squandered after an 8-of-22 outing. That’s how it goes with weekly awards, though, and last week, Jayson Tatum gave us a glimpse of the level of play we’ve been expecting from him for a few weeks now. Hopefully, in the games to come, he shows us that the Rockets game was an aberration, and resumes that level of performance that he showed in these games.

The end of the season draws ever closer as the Celtics proceed through the month of March. This week, they’ll face a four-game slate, all on the road. The week began with Monday’s setback loss to the Houston Rockets. On Wednesday, they’ll battle the Minnesota Timberwolves. After that, they’ll tackle another back-to-back against the Trail Blazers and Jazz on Friday and Saturday. We’ll be back this time next week to break down the action and anoint our 20th Player of the Week this season.

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