This time last week, Jayson Tatum was fresh off a horrid outing that saw him post a mere 10 points on a four-of-19 clip from the field, including no makes in six tries beyond the arc. The Celtics lost, of course, and with his anemic output that included a single rebound in 41 minutes on the court came blowback questioning his status as one of the National Basketball Association’s finest. He supposedly cemented it with a sterling showing in the previous series against the Nets, during which he outperformed future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant. In his post-mortem, he acknowledged his frailties, and promised to do better moving forward.
That the Celtics will be hosting Game Seven of the conference semifinals against the Bucks today speaks to how well he has lived up to his word. In the three matches since his clunker, he has been nothing but spectacular, norming a whopping 37 markers and 9.3 caroms. And, yes, he was otherworldly in the immediate past contest, a do-or-die affair that didn’t just have him putting up 46, nine, and four; he kept the defending champions at bay with an array of clutch shots that prevented yet another late-game collapse.
Indeed, Tatum was so on point the other day that he made no less than 14 contested baskets, all but negating acknowledged best-of-the-best Giannis Antetokounmpo’s third 40-point, 10-rebound effort in the series. And, make no mistake, against the experienced Bucks, the Celtics needed them all. Needless to say, all the criticism levied against him for his pathetic play last week has been forgotten and replaced by praise. For all the negatives of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindset, it nonetheless underscores the importance of marquee names earning their keep every single time out.
It’s fair to contend that Tatum will again need to be at his sharpest if the Celtics are to extend their postseason run. After all, the resilient Bucks — starring the consistently dominant Antetokounmpo — stand in his way. The good news is that, unlike last week, he’ll be ready and willing. Whether or not he’s also able will determine the fate of the green and white.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.