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And after Tatum turned in a grasp class efficiency Thursday night time, ending with 39 factors and 9 rebounds in slightly below 48 minutes in Boston’s 141-133 double-overtime victory over the LA Clippers within the ultimate recreation earlier than he seems in his first All-Star Game, Walker had extra to say.
“So far, yeah,” Walker mentioned, when requested if this had been the perfect recreation Tatum had ever performed. “He was unimaginable. He made each proper play. He made each huge shot.
“He was the perfect participant on the court docket tonight.”
By saying “up to now,” Walker insinuated that Tatum has room to develop his recreation. But when that is pretty much as good because it will get, the Celtics will nonetheless be fairly pleased.
Tatum checked each field on this one. Sturdiness? In a double-overtime recreation, he performed extra minutes than anybody on the court docket. Environment friendly scoring? He completed the sport 14-for-23 from the sphere, together with 5-for-10 from 3-point vary. Drawing fouls? He completed the sport with 10 free throw makes an attempt, tying his profession excessive (and displaying the one blemish on his efficiency, as he made solely six of them).
And defensively? All Tatum did was maintain Clippers star Kawhi Leonard to 3-for-11 capturing when he was guarding him — together with 1-for-7 from the sphere within the fourth quarter and the 2 additional time intervals, in response to Second Spectrum’s participant monitoring information.
It was a tour de pressure — one which got here in opposition to one of many league’s finest groups and with its finest gamers at his place as Tatum prepares to go to Chicago this weekend. Tatum mentioned getting the possibility to play in opposition to gamers similar to Leonard and Paul George — who left the game in the second quarter due to a strained left hamstring — helped enhance his degree of play.
“Any time you get an opportunity to play in opposition to guys you look as much as, or arguably are the perfect guys within the league, it positively type of raises your degree of play,” Tatum advised ESPN. “I take pleasure in competing in opposition to the perfect gamers.”
Tatum was not solely competing in opposition to the perfect gamers — he additionally appeared like one in all them. On an evening stuffed with superlative performances and spectacular moments on either side — Marcus Smart completed with 31 factors, together with scoring Boston’s first 10 of the sport; Lou Williams had 35 factors and eight assists, together with almost beating the Celtics by himself within the fourth quarter; Leonard had 28 factors, 11 rebounds and four assists; and Walker had 19 factors, 9 rebounds and seven assists — his clearly stood out among the many relaxation.
“It is simply his maturity with it,” Sensible mentioned. “He takes his time with it, and we belief him 120%. He is aware of it, there’s the additional confidence he already has, and it is extra confidence for him to go on the market and be the participant we see in him.
“He is doing a fantastic job, however you may positively inform that he is matured, he is put in that work, and it is all displaying him. Not only for him, however for this crew. It is superb.”
Tatum has beforehand mentioned that he holds up gamers like Leonard and George as fashions for what he aspires to be: an elite two-way participant. Throughout Tatum’s time with Group USA, they have been the 2 names Gregg Popovich threw at him as examples of what the Corridor of Fame coach thinks he can turn into.
Going up in opposition to them Thursday night time, these aspirations and potential gave approach to extra tangible proof that he’s at the very least approaching their degree — with the actual fact the All-Star Sport lies on the horizon an added bonus.
“It is enjoyable [to see],” Walker mentioned of Tatum’s progress. “I am glad I get to be part of it. It is simply particular.
“He is been enjoying rather well, however not solely has he been scoring, he is simply been making the proper play. I feel that is what’s most vital. You are driving and kicking, he is seeing his reads, and he is doing the proper issues.”
Tatum did so many proper issues Thursday night time. Consequently, the Celtics go into the All-Star break with a 38-16 file, having gained eight of their previous 9 video games and firmly ensconced because the Jap Convention’s third seed. It is a far cry from final season, one which ended with a thud in a five-game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks within the Jap Convention semifinals. Tatum additionally suffered a disappointing seventh-place end final summer season with Group USA within the FIBA World Cup, by which he missed the medal spherical due to an ankle sprain.
However after the sport, Tatum mentioned the trials and tribulations of final season have helped him discover ways to attain the extent of play he confirmed Thursday night time.
“I feel all these issues have helped put me within the place I’m now,” Tatum mentioned, “and upped my degree of play as I proceed to attempt to determine this out.”