By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Even after his team dropped a crushing double-overtime decision to the Celtics Thursday night, Kawhi Leonard couldn't help but recognize the effort of rising superstar Jayson Tatum.
"I mean, he's just more assertive," said Leonard, according to Jovan Buha. "They're giving him the ball. They trust him, he trusts himself and he's doing his thing."
Leonard spent most of the night mano a mano with the 21-year-old Tatum. When the Clippers had the ball, Tatum held Leonard to 4-of-12 shooting on the 24 possessions he guarded him. That included this impressive stop late in regulation:
Jayson Tatum really played great defense against Kawhi Leonard ???? https://t.co/TCVRamGRDL
As impressive as Tatum was on the defensive end of the floor, he was arguably more impressive on offense. The Duke product dropped 39 points, two shy of his career-high. He hit 14-of-23 shots using just about every trick in his bag from dribble drives to mid-range pull ups to the deep ball, going 5-for-10 from three. Tatum really took control late in the game, kicking off his impressive run by putting Clippers forward JaMychal Green on a poster late in the third quarter.
@jaytatum0 drops the hammer in tonight's @JetBlue Play of the Game! https://t.co/NRYSracXfI
The Celtics funneled the offense more and more through Tatum as the game went on. This provided a number of highlights, including this move around Landry Shamet late in the first overtime with the game on the line:
WHAT. A. MOVE. https://t.co/QTVZCfIq61
JT ???????????????????????????????? https://t.co/aNVf1kj9xB
While Leonard had a front row seat to the Jayson Tatum Experience, he wasn't the only one to notice Tatum's apparent arrival as an NBA superstar. Basketball Twitter lit up during and after the game proclaiming Tatum's showing out on a national stage, against a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Leonard.
Win, Lose or Draw Tatum is outplaying Kawhi on both ends of the floor tonight!!!
Jayson Tatum is in such a zone he's demanding the ball to iso Kawhi Leonard and he doesn't even care that it's Kawhi Leonard.
Tatum has been on fire for a long stretch, but tonight feels different. Getting multiple buckets on Kawhi. Defending Kawhi. National TV vs. one of the real championship contenders. Tonight should be a significant date on his career timeline.
NBA players ≤ 21 YO with PTS ≥ 3,400 TRB ≥ 1,100 AST ≥ 425 BLK ≥ 150 JAYSON TATUM LeBron James Kevin Garnett Kevin Durant Tracy McGrady END OF LIST Looks like a decent starting line-up
As 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Ty Anderson pointed out, even with Mookie Betts gone and Tom Brady's status in doubt, Tatum forms a pair of young superstars at TD Garden that seem to have the next decade of Boston sports under their control.
Imagine your city not having David Pastrnak and Jayson Tatum? Yeesh.
This all comes just days before Tatum is set to make his All-Star Game debut. With a national stage to discuss this performance, Tatum's stock is likely to keep growing even while the team is off. After that, the next item on Tatum's superstar checklist is a lofty one ... an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].