Jayson Tatum holds the key to the Boston Celtics‘ chances of success in their upcoming playoff run.
The All-Star wing is unquestionably the best player on the Celtics roster and will be the focal point of Boston’s offense – both as a scorer and playmaker. Yet, as the Celtics gear up to face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, questions will inevitably be asked about Tatum’s ability to out-duel Kevin Durant.
Let’s be honest, Durant is a top-two player in the world right now, and will enter the Celtics/Nets series as the best player on the floor. Tatum will come in second place, and then you can choose between Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown for third and fourth, depending on what you value in the playoffs.
However, NBA Insider Chris Mannix recently shared an update on Tatum’s mindset, and why he will disagree with those who believe Durant is the best player in the upcoming series.
“I was speaking to someone close to Jayson Tatum recently, and one thing he told me was that Tatum, right now, believes he’s the best player in the world. Not All-NBA level, but the best player in the world. And I believe Tatum goes into this series eager to prove that he can play on the level of Kevin Durant,” Mannix said.
A motivated Jayson Tatum is a fearsome prospect, but if he can keep his game within the flow of the Celtics’ offense, and execute at an elite level, there’s no reason why the St. Louis native can’t see his stock rise throughout this series.
Tatum Carried Boston Last Season
When the Celtics and Nets faced off in the 2021 playoffs, Boston was a team reeling from multiple injuries to important players. Jaylen Brown was ruled out of the post-season due to a wrist injury, while Robert Williams went down early in the first round after re-aggravating a turf toe injury.
That left Tatum as the lone star on the Celtics roster, and against a three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, Tatum went to work. Over the five games Boston played in last year’s playoffs, their All-Star wing averaged 30.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game on 38.9% three-point shooting and 42.3% shooting from the field.
Tatum scored 30 or more points in three of the Celtics’ five outings, even dropping 50 in game three against the Nets on May 28. If that’s what Boston’s star wing can do without the support of other elite players around him, imagine what he’s going to be capable of this year, when he has Jaylen Brown and an improved Marcus Smart supporting him on the wings.
Still, the Celtics are in for a tough series against an incredibly talented Nets team, and right now, there’s no telling which roster is going to progress out of the first round, and which will be facing an early exit.
Udoka is Not Worried About Match-ups
While fans and analysts continue to look for advantages in the endless supply of lineup data, the Celtics coaches will be getting to work in the film room so they can formulate a gameplan.
When he recently spoke to the media, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka noted how he’s not concerned with how his team match-up with the Nets, but rather, with how Boston sticks to his principles throughout a game.
“We look at everything, honestly. One thing I’ve prioritized is health and us playing our best. The opponent doesn’t matter as much, chips will fall where they are, but we know all the tie-breakers and all the scenarios. But we’re going to worry about ourselves more than anybody else, being healthy,” Udoka said in a recent press conference.
The Celtics head into their series as the second-best offensive team in the league since January 1, sitting behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, and as the best defensive team in the league in terms of efficiency.
With such lofty rankings on both ends of the floor, it makes sense that Boston is bullish on their chances against a Nets team that had to go through the play-in tournament to qualify for the post-season. But, the Celtics will need to be aware of over-confidence and ensure they approach each game with cautious optimism.