Earlier in the day, the subject of Jayson Tatum came up and Jeff Green, the veteran Nets forward, did not mince words describing the Celtics’ young scoring whiz.
“JT’s a monster,’’ Green said. “JT has been playing unbelievable basketball. He’s done it all year, he’s done it the last couple of years. He’s the head of the snake, is what they call it in our world, I guess. He’s been playing phenomenal.’’
Consider this snake to be roadkill.
Coming off a 50-point eruption in the Celtics’ play-in victory over the Wizards four days earlier, Tatum was less than ordinary Saturday night in Game 1 of the Nets-Celtics playoff series at Barclays Center. He started hot, cooled and finished with an arctic blast, limited to only 22 points in the Nets’ 104-93 victory.
Tatum scored the first four points for the Celtics and then nailed a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 13-4. It seemed as if another big offensive outing was brewing for him. As the game wore on, Tatum’s effectiveness waned. He scored just seven points in the second half, finished up shooting 6 of 20 from the floor and did not have a made basket in the fourth quarter. Nine of his 22 points came on the foul line.
“He missed a couple he can make for sure,’’ Kevin Durant said. “I think we did a good job of just making him shoot tough ones and being up there on the catch. He’s such a talented player we can’t get discouraged when he makes those shots over us. He made a couple to start the game, tough threes and tough fades and we were able to take that storm and keep pushing through.’’
Tatum averaged 26.4 points per game in his fourth NBA season, but nothing has come easily. Jaylen Brown, averaging 24.7 points, underwent wrist surgery last week and is gone until next season, a crushing blow to the Celtics. Tatum back in January tested positive for COVID-19 and three months later, in mid-April, admitted he was still dealing with lingering symptoms and used an inhaler before every game.
After the way he carved up the Wizards, though, Tatum certainly had the Nets’ attention. Kyrie Irving started out on him and several other defenders chased Tatum around. Durant, Green, James Harden, even Nic Claxton threw their bodies at Tatum and the 23-year old wilted down the stretch.
“As great of a scorer JT is, just trying to knock him off his spots a little bit,’’ Harden said. “Be physical with him, contest his shots and just show bodies. He likes the ball to dance on the wings and that post game, he’s pretty efficient, so we wanted to show him bodies, contest his shots. Everybody that had a crack at him did a solid job. Six-for-20, but we can’t be comfortable with that, he’s going to be better Game 2 and we will too.’’
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