Jayson Tatum’s Improved Defense Standing Out At Start Of Celtics Season

Tatum's defense on Ja Morant was impressive


Nov 8, 2022

As Ja Morant tried to will the Memphis Grizzlies to a win late in the fourth quarter on Monday, many players on the Boston Celtics didn’t shy away from petitioning Joe Mazzulla to be the one to get the tough defensive assignment on the star guard.

While the Celtics interim head coach said the “whole team” requested to pick up Morant, Mazzulla ultimately gave the bulk of responsibility of defending the electrifying offensive catalyst over the game’s final minutes to Jayson Tatum.

And Tatum, more known for his offensive prowess displayed in his 39-point effort in the 109-106 win over the Grizzlies, was up to the task of being Boston’s defensive stopper. This didn’t seem to come from out of nowhere either, as while the Celtics have struggled defensively at the outset of this season, Tatum’s shown an improved defensive ability that is becoming a part of the MVP campaign he’s trying to put together.

Tatum successfully guarded Morant by causing the fourth-year pro to go 0-for-4 from the floor when Tatum was his primary defender, per NBA tracking data. Two of those Morant misses were blocks by Tatum, including when the Celtics superstar stayed in front of Morant on a drive before swatting away a step-through layup attempt with 4:29 left.

A minute later, Tatum forced Morant into a pullup 3-pointer, which went awry. Then with the Grizzlies trailing by just four with a little over 10 seconds left, Memphis went to their go-to man. But there Tatum was again, switching onto Morant and strongly contesting a 29-foot 3-pointer that clanged off the front rim. Morant missed five of his final six shots, with Tatum guarding him on three of those attempts.

The defensive awareness by Tatum in these instances was spectacular as he used his superb athleticism and length to do what he usually does on the other end of the floor and be a difference-maker. Tatum sees too the importance of being completely engaged as a defender.

“The thing that helped us get to the championship last year was defending Brooklyn, defending Miami and Milwaukee and things like that,” Tatum told reporters after the game, as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “Defense is going to get us to ultimately to where we want to get to.”

Tatum has undoubtedly stepped up his defense as he cements himself as one of the best players in the league. With Robert Williams sidelined, he’s the clear team leader in blocks, averaging 1.4 per game.

His 15 blocks are by far the most rejections he’s had through the first 10 games in his career. Tatum highlighted his early-season block party by swatting four shots in an overtime road loss last week to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tatum’s elite talent has always made him capable of this type of defensive showing, and if this trend continues, it won’t be a surprise if Mazzulla elects to keep going to him to lock down an opposing team’s best player during crunch time on a nightly basis.

Thumbnail photo via Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports Images
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