Why Jayson Tatum's response to his performance vs. Timberwolves is huge for Celtics


Not to take anything away from Daniel Theis after his career night, but what Jayson Tatum did on Friday was more significant for the Celtics. Not regarding the outcome. Both played huge roles, of course.

But, Tatum’s play against Minnesota says more about the Celtics going forward than a 25-point, 16-rebound performance out of Theis against a Karl-Anthony Towns-less Timberwolves — again, a very impressive game for Boston’s starting big man.

Also, Theis wasn’t the only Celtic who did well offensively on Friday.

Gordon Hayward (29 points on 12-for-17 shooting) dominated Minnesota, again. Jaylen Brown scored 25 points before he fouled out and Marcus Smart had a double-double (10 points and 10 assists) in the Celtics’ 127-117 win over the Timberwolves. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' win, click here.)

THEIS -- pic.twitter.com/vmbFpjg0m6

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 22, 2020

The defense wasn’t sharp. Not a big issue in the first game post-All-Star break, even against the Timberwolves — still, the Celtics can’t ignore that.

“We were on our heels the whole night,” Brad Stevens said. “If we’re not the team that impacts the ball, we’re not going to be very good.”

Even with all of that going on, Tatum’s night mattered most.

Now, the added emphasis on his play has nothing to do with making up for Kemba Walker’s production while the point guard was sidelined due to left knee soreness. It was more about what’s gone on with Tatum since the win over the Clippers.

That double-overtime win was one of Tatum’s best all-around performances of his career. Not only was it against a good team, he also dealt with Kawhi Leonard most of the night.

It was such a strong showing that Tatum and Leonard talked about it during NBA All-Star Weekend. Which brings things to the other area of concern coming into Friday’s game.

After Tatum was named an All-Star, he picked up his level of play. Then he got a taste of superstardom being in the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.

An experience like that can go to anyone’s head. But Tatum still made a lot of big plays, went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line and had 11 rebounds in the win over Minnesota. Even though he wasn’t as efficient as he usually is from the floor (8-for-21) throughout his 28-point performance, his approach was still the same.

No one’s stopping 0 right now pic.twitter.com/QJH5und2Ph

— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) February 22, 2020

What’s more important, though, is Tatum wasn’t satisfied with his night.

“I was struggling,” Tatum said after complimenting Theis and Hayward during his postgame, courtside interview with NBC Sports Boston.

He did admit teams continue to make it harder for him to score.

“But that’s what you should want,” Tatum added.

Sure doesn’t sound like Tatum is getting a big head from all of this success.

--@jaytatum0's on another level these days pic.twitter.com/RUh2RagKIt

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 22, 2020

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