January is coming to close and the midseason doldrums of the NBA season are upon us, and it’s time for Player of the Week once more. Last week brought three games for the Celtics, all wins as a part of their erstwhile nine-game winning streak — Monday at Charlotte, Thursday at home against Golden State and Saturday at Toronto. Let’s take a look at the players who moved the needle this week, and crown our weekly standout.
It was a big week for the front court this time around. Robert Williams is really rounding into form for this team, and posted a couple of solid performances — including a dominant outing against the undersized Warriors — before hyperextending his knee after 15 minutes against the Raptors. Meanwhile, Al Horford had his best individual performance of the season against Golden State, scoring 20 points and blocking three shots. Grant Williams picked up the scoring load against Toronto with a 25-point outburst, a season-high and his second time cracking the 20-point threshold this year.
This week, though, we’re going back to #0 for the hardware.
CelticsBlog Player of the Week #14: Jayson Tatum
2 GP, 44.1 MPG, 42.5 PPG (48% FG, 44% 3PT), 14 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, +22
It was a week of headlines for Tatum, who takes home the hardware this week even while taking some well-earned time off to rest his ailing left wrist on Saturday against Toronto. The marquee performance: 51 points against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night. It was Tatum’s fifth 50-point game in the regular season (he also has one in the play-in tournament and one in the playoffs), breaking a tie with none other than Larry Bird for most such games in Boston Celtics history.
Let’s think about that again: the most in Celtics’ history. Jayson Tatum isn’t even 25 years old yet, and he’s surpassed Bird’s total of 50-point performances in less than half as many career games. Offense in the NBA may be at an all=time high, but the rarefied air he’s put himself in over such a short period of time remains something truly special.
This was one of the more efficient 50-point games you’ll see. Tatum shot 65% from the field on the afternoon, including a perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line. The Celtics jumped on the Hornets from the opening tip, and Tatum was involved in it all. He scored at least nine points in all four quarters, including 18 in the fourth to put Charlotte on ice for good.
Then there was the Warriors. After a disappointing blowout loss in their first rematch with the defending champs on the road, the Celtics hosted them at the TD Garden for their final regular season matchup of the year. The result, you surely know — after three quarters of scuffling, the Celtics made plays down the stretch, tying the game up at the end of regulation and hanging on to win in overtime.
It was, in all, a Herculean effort. Tatum tied his career-high in single-game minutes with 48, including playing the entire second half and overtime without a break. It wasn’t the prettiest performance you’ve ever seen, but there was a level of grit to it that was lacking in their last matchup. Tatum didn’t shoot efficiently, nor did Brown, but that didn’t stop either of them from competing. This was a game this team wanted to win.
Outside of the shooting, this was one of the most ostentatious stat lines of Tatum’s career. The 34 points are something we’re accustomed to at this point; he’s averaging 31 per game this season. The 19 rebounds and six assists, though, were a welcome addition. The Warriors playing small, combined with his heavy minutes load, led to a career-high on the boards as he secured the defensive glass. Given the nature of his game, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Tatum is one of the tallest players on the court at any given time — a major contributor to his career-high 21.7% rebound percentage on the season.
The shooting numbers were ugly, but frustration didn’t creep its way into the other facets of Tatum’s game the way it sometimes does in his off nights. He locked in defensively, particularly in the fourth quarter as part of an effort that held the Warriors to just 32% shooting down the stretch.
A win in January doesn’t undo what happened in last summer’s NBA Finals — not even close. But at the very least, the specter of that series won’t loom over this team anymore. The Celtics scored a hard-fought and emotional win that resonated about as much as any regular season game could. Jayson Tatum was crucial in making that happen.
That’s all for this week. Moving forward, we’ve got a busy one for the boys in green — a Monday/Tuesday back-to-back against the Heat and Magic, a Thursday night matchup against the Knicksand a Saturday night showdown with the arch-rival Lakers. With the team dealing with some injuries, will there be a surprise contribution from one of the bench players pressed into action? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.