BOSTON — It was no sure thing Jayson Tatum would take the floor for the Celtics’ matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, but Boston fans sure are glad he did.
Well known for his desire to play every game, Tatum toughed out an ankle injury he suffered in Monday’s loss to the Chicago Bulls and led the Celtics to a 125-112 victory at TD Garden. Even on an ankle that was less-than 100%, the All-NBA forward dropped 37 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out five assists and had two key blocks in the bounce-back win.
Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about his superstar following the game and provided perhaps his most truthful response yet.
“(It’s a credit to) his durability,” Mazzulla said. “His ability to answer the moment. His ability to be a great teammate and make the people around him better. And celebrate when the team is doing well. You can count on him to play every night.”
With just two days to turn around from his injury and prepare to square off against Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic, there was a thought Tatum would sit out his first game of the season — for everyone outside of the Celtics locker room.
“He was playing that game. He was playing,” Brown said postgame. “He had that game circled, he was playing the whole time. Don’t let him fool y’all.”
Tatum has made it clear how he feels on missing games. He doesn’t like it, so he doesn’t do it.
“The front office gets, not mad, but they definitely wish I would rest a little more and sit some games out,” Tatum told Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe this week. “There’s been times where two weeks in advance we talk about, ‘Let’s take this game off.’ And I’ll be like ‘All right.’ Then the day comes and I’ll be like, ‘(Expletive) that. I think that’s just something that’s the kid in me. I always dreamed about playing in the NBA and never want to take that for granted. I just love playing basketball. There’s days they make me not work out. Sometimes I get mad when Joe takes me out of the game. I just always want to play.”
The competitive desire Tatum has shows. He leads the NBA in minutes played through 18 games and is one of three Celtics, alongside Derrick White and Sam Hauser, to have played in every game this season.
Boston’s superstar is averaging 30.2 points 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game this season, squarely planting himself in MVP consideration. He’s improved as a playmaker, defender, scorer, rebounder and, by all accounts, teammate. What he does best, however, is have the desire to keep going.