By Tristan Deschenes, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Despite coming up short to the Lakers on Sunday, the Celtics continued to prove they are the real deal - and that Jayson Tatum’s superstar performances make them a real threat to make the NBA Finals.
Coming into the season, the hope for this Celtics team was simply to be fun, and to be everything that the Kyrie Irving-led team was not. They have certainly done that and more.
The main reason for the Celtics' level of success is Tatum’s rise to stardom. The third-year forward made his first ever All-Star game and has really turned it on in the process. Since Jan. 18, Tatum is averaging 30.3 points per game. During this most recent 12-game stretch, Tatum has had games of 33, 32, and 39 points, and he topped that off with his-41 point performance on Sunday.
The Celtics sorely missed Kemba Walker's offense at the point guard position on Sunday, but still managed to keep it close all afternoon in their 114-112 loss to the Lakers, mainly thanks to Tatum. A game like that only underlines what the Celtics can do when healthy.
Against what many consider to be the league's top teams, Boston has won and held their own. The Celtics are 1-1 against the Clippers, with their loss coming in overtime, and 1-1 against the Lakers with a blowout win at home and a close defeat on the road. They're 1-1 against the Bucks and lost by only five points.
Doubt of this Celtics team has gone out the window. Walker has not been totally healthy over the past month, missing multiple games with knee soreness, and yet they've barely missed a beat.
That is what makes this Celtics team so exciting. Their starters have only played 16 games together and they sit at a strong 39-17 record. But Tatum has mostly been at the forefront.
What has been impressive about Tatum this year is that he believes he can score against anyone in the world. He put up 39 points against the Clippers, and did it while going at Kawhi Leonard. Tatum is not just putting up big numbers against bad teams anymore - he is scoring at will against top teams and players in the league.
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His offensive ability and decision-making has jumped to the level that many were hoping he would. His shot selection is improved. He has almost completely ditched the unnecessary fadeaways and has made an effort to become a great finisher.
Not only has he improved with his shot selection and inside game, but his ball handling and three point shooting has reached another level. His ability to create space for his shots beyond the arc is top-tier. Once he gets into that rock-and-step-back rhythm, it's almost automatic now. Tatum has officially established himself as an elite one-on-one scorer, something the Celtics haven't had in awhile.
It's no longer a wonder who the ball should go to down the stretch of games. The ball goes to Tatum, he wants it, and his teammates know he is the one who should shoot it. His arrival as a superstar in year 3 has led to the Celtics' arrival as a legitimate finals contender.