Jayson Tatum returned to the floor Monday night for the first time since Jan. 8, and after a first-quarter airball, the Boston Celtics star picked up right where he left off.
Tatum attacked the rim, finished high off the glass, showcased some difficult shot-making and had a productive night as the Celtics defeated the Chicago Bulls 119-103 at United Center on Monday.
The All-NBA honoree played 31 minutes and finished with 24 points on 10-for-21 from the field. He added five assists and four rebounds.
Tatum admitted he got winded easier early in the game. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens noted as well, but said he thought it got much better as the game went on.
Stevens had a similar outlook, expressing how he was impressed with his production.
“I thought he had some moments where he looked a little bit more gassed, the long stretch before halftime where he played from start of second quarter to four (minutes) there and then the stretch at the end of the game,” Stevens told reporters, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage.
“… I was extremely happy with how he came out and played,” Stevens continued. “I thought that’s not easy to do to be out five games, to be out 20 days or whatever it was and score what he scored.
“My hope is always when guys come back off long layoffs and minute restrictions that they push themselves defensively and with cutting and with sprinting the floor in transition on offense. That’s where you’re going to get winded quickly. And so, that?s why you can’t play long stretches if you’re playing that hard the right way. So, I’m looking more for that stuff. I’m not worried one bit about him finding the basket, that’s what he does,” Stevens added.
Tatum was one of four starters who scored double figures.
“… I’m just happy to be back,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston after the win.
Here are some other takeaways from Celtics-Bulls:
— Aaron Nesmith, the Celtics’ first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers against the Bulls.
And while that was impressive enough for the 20-year-old, his development on the defensive end continued to catch Stevens’ attention.
“He’s actually done a pretty darn good job all the way through,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s into the body. He’s tough. He’s physical. He stays in plays. He got the deflection in transition. I just think he has the chance to be a good defender and he’s worked hard at learning that.
“And then I think the game is slowing down a little bit on the other end, so that?s a good thing,” Stevens added. “I think that it helps he’s had a couple games here where he’s played a bit more.”
— While Tatum’s return was perhaps the most noteworthy, the Celtics had a handful of strong performances in the balanced win.
Marcus Smart tied his career high in assists (11) while contributing 13 points. Jaylen Brown marked his fifth consecutive 25-plus point night, finishing with a team-high 26 points. And then there was Daniel Theis, who added 19 points, three rebounds, three steals, three blocks and three assists.
“For the last couple weeks I feel more comfortable. My body feels great,” Theis told reporters. “… And right now, I can’t complain at all. My body feels great and when we play we playing right now, like the last two games, especially on the offensive end, it’s hard to guard us.”
— Boston is scheduled to travel to face the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. And they’ll finally do so with Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Tatum all expected to play.
It’s safe to say the C’s are excited to play with their full squad after what seemed to be a revolving door of injuries, COVID-19 protocols, etc.
“Yeah, I’m excited for Wednesday,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston. “Having most of the guys back. Finally. Just getting to play with each other for the first time, it’s been a while.”
Tip off is set for 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday (assuming it isn’t postponed, that is) as the Celtics get set for six of their next seven games on the road.