Jayson Tatum is off to the best scoring start in Celtics history, and other early season notes
October 23rd, 2022
Leading up to the Celtics’ regular season, Jayson Tatum spoke openly about how last year’s loss in the NBA Finals impacted him. Other reports indicated the loss is something he internalized over the offseason and allowed it to influence his approach as he prepared to lead the team on yet another run after Banner 18.
Now it’s still very, very, early. But three games into the Celtics’ season, Tatum is taking his game to another level. The numbers back it up as well.
Most points by a Celtic through the first 3 games of a season:
1. Jayson Tatum ('22-23): 98 PTS (and counting) 2. Larry Bird ('84-85): 96 PTS 3. Larry Bird ('87-88): 91 PTS
Statistically, Tatum had his best game of the season in the team’s 126-120 win over the Orlando Magic Saturday night. He scored a game-high 40 points on 14-of-21 shooting, while gathering eight rebounds and recording two blocks. In the fourth quarter alone he had 10 points, getting himself to the line six times as the Celtics closed out their third win in as many games.
Not only does Tatum now lead the young NBA season in scoring – averaging 34.7 points per game – but that performance also helped him surpass a trio of Celtics legends. Tatum’s 104 points to start the year are the most ever by a Celtics player through the first three games of a season. Larry Bird had the previous record, scoring 96 points to begin the 1984-1985 campaign. That season ended with Bird winning the second of his three consecutive MVP awards.
Other players Tatum passed Saturday night include Paul Pierce – who scored 90 in the first three games of the 2005-2006 season, and Bob Cousy, who scored 89 to begin his 1956-1957 season that also ended with an MVP.
Most games with 40 or more points in Celtics regular season history
1. Larry Bird - 47x 2. Paul Pierce - 21x 3. JAYSON TATUM - 12x 3. John Havlicek - 12x
Again, and this can’t be stressed enough, it’s still very early in the year. Nobody is handing out a title based on the first three games of the season. The point here is the belief coming in was that the Celtics’ approach this year, led by Tatum and Jaylen Brown, would be ‘different’ after they experienced their first NBA Finals defeat. So far, that checks out.
Last year, with a similar core, the team began the season 1-2 and then 2-5. With a last-minute coaching change and news that Robert Williams would miss the first few months of the season, another slow start seemed like a possibility, although the Celtics are now busy putting that idea to bed.
Tatum in particular has flipped a switch. He started last season relatively cold. Compared to that opening stretch from last season – which was against lesser opponents than who the Celtics have faced so far – he is averaging 15 more points per game to start this year while shooting almost 20 percent better from the floor.
By digging themselves such a big hole early last season, the Celtics were forced to exert more energy down the stretch as they worked their way back up the Eastern Conference Standings. That increased workload started showing in the playoffs as they faced elite teams that did what elite teams tend to do in the modern NBA – coast through the regular season and manage fatigue.
Right now, the Celtics appear to be setting themselves up to have the flexibility to manage things in the second half of this season. With Williams’ injury, Al Horford’s minutes under the microscope, and just the way injuries have tended to impact the Celtics after New Years the last few seasons, that flexibility could make a key difference.
It’s not just Tatum driving the Celtics to this strong start though. Here’s some other observations from the first 144 minutes of the Celtics’ season…
Jaylen Brown also elevating his game
MIAMI, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 21: Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics shoots past Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat during the first quarter at FTX Arena on October 21, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Prior to an off shooting night in Orlando, Brown had been step-for-step with Tatum to start the season. He’s hitting over 50 percent of his shots from the floor, as he appears to be more aggressively attacking the basket after going 4-for-12 from three in the opener.
Speaking of aggressive, Brown has been active on defense as well. He has five steals and four blocks through the first three games.
Derrick White’s offseason focus paying off
Oct 21, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Derrick White (9) takes a shot against the Miami Heat during the second quarter at FTX Arena. Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
At the end of last season, Derrick White said one of his biggest points of emphasis for his offseason was going to be improving his shot. As the Celtics began training camp and preseason games that work was apparent, and his success has carried over to the start of the regular season. White has hit seven of his 14 three-point attempts so far this year, and is shooting 52 percent from the floor. Saturday night was his best game yet, as he scored 27 points – the most he’s had in a single game since joining the Celtics.
With Robert Williams out, the Celtics have turned to White as their fifth starter. So far, he’s rewarded that choice.
Big man depth
Oct 22, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics forward Noah Vonleh (4) rebounds the ball against the Orlando Magic in the first quarter at Amway Center. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
One of the bigger questions surrounding the Celtics heading into the regular season is what the big man rotation would look like without Robert Williams. Horford has done his part but a pair of late additions to the roster have stood out as offering additional competivie depth.
After spending last year playing in China, Noah Vonleh may very well be carving out a rotational role for himself in Boston. In the season opener he had multiple defensive stops working against Joel Embiid, then had two blocks against Miami. With Horford out for the Orlando game, the Celtics gave Vonleh the start.
He’s not playing a ton of minutes or putting up massive stats, but Vonleh has looked like a steadying presence for a team whose big man play has been a bit of an adventure beyond the starters the last couple of seasons. At 6-foot-10, he has more size to compete under the rim than players like Daniel Theis or Grant Williams, who the Celtics used as an emergency five at times last season. He’s also been more than willing to move the ball, having taken just six shots (hitting four of them) in 48 minutes of action.
Another late addition to the roster, veteran Blake Griffin has shown an ability to add an edge in a limited role so far. The former first-overall pick has shown a willingness to scrap for rebounds and dive for loose balls, giving the team another high-motor player in the paint while Rob Williams is rehabbing.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 18: Boston Celtics interim head coach Joe Mazzulla looks on during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on October 18, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
During the playoffs last season, third quarters were the Celtics’ Achilles heel. They outscored teams by121 points between quarters one, two, and four, but were minus-35 in the third quarter – the worst among all playoff teams to win at least one series and second-worst overall.
So far this season the third quarter has actually been the Celtics’ best. They’re outscoring teams by an average of 6.3 points per game in the third, which ranks third in the NBA. Granted, coming out of halftime in October is a lot different than doing so in May and June, but it’s good to see those issues haven’t carried over immediately.
The Celtics will look to stay undefeated when they return to action on Monday in Chicago against the Bulls. That game wraps up a three-game road trip. The call of that game can be heard on 105.7 WROR and the Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network beginning with pregame coverage at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.