BOSTON — Jayson Tatum took on the challenge of going toe-to-toe with LeBron James and came up just a bit short of leading the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics’ rookie forward scored a team-high 24 points Sunday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden. Unfortunately for Boston, Tatum was one of the few C’s players who performed at a high level as the Cleveland Cavaliers won 87-79.
Tatum was on fire early, scoring nine first-quarter points to James’ 12 as the Celtics raced out to a 26-18 lead after 12 minutes. He continued to play well at both ends of the floor, and even gave the Celtics a 72-71 lead with 6:04 remaining in the fourth quarter after hitting a 3-pointer and posterizing James with an emphatic dunk.
Tatum eventually fouled out after the Cavs sealed Boston’s fate, ending his night with 24 points (9-for-17 shooting) and seven rebounds in 42 minutes. He ended the playoffs with 351 points, one short of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record for rookie scoring in the playoffs.
“I just love everything about the kid — the way he plays the game, his demeanor, where he comes from,” James said. “I know his parents. I just know he’s built for stardom. He’s built for success. And that’s both on and off the floor. Two guys right there that — Boston is lucky to have them.”
The poise, passion and high-level of performance Tatum displayed in Game 7 is a very encouraging sign for the Celtics’ future.
It’s very rare that a rookie takes the leading role on this kind of stage. Tatum averaged 17.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and shot 49 percent from the field in the conference finals. He also led the Celtics in scoring for the entire playoffs with 18.5 points per contest.
“To perform the way he’s performed, he plays like a five, six, seven-year vet,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
“He’s always poised, always under control, never gets sped up, really no weaknesses offensively. He can post, he can take you off the dribble, run pick-and-roll, catch and shoot. He’s a very young, talented player, and he’s going to be one of our best players in this league in a couple few years. I’m very happy for him.”
Celtics legend Paul Pierce recently told the Boston Herald he thinks Tatum will go down as a Celtic great, and it’s hard not to agree with “The Truth” after watching the rookie’s first postseason journey.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports