A full-strength Celtics team probably wants to run their offense something like this: Kyrie Irving penetrates or somehow initiates the action, then a Gordon Hayward–led cast of slashers takes advantage of whatever chaos Irving stirs up to knock down an open jumper or exploit a mismatch. However, the Celtics are decidedly not at full strength, as both Irving and Hayward are still recovering from offseason surgery. The pair went a combined 6-for-26 yesterday, neither looking confident or comfortable playing at game speed. And yet, the Celtics still easily waxed the Sixers. That’s because they have a deep well of competent players, and also because Jayson Tatum was the best player on the court.
Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points in 28 minutes. It’s not that gaudy of a number, but what was most impressive about Tatum’s night was how easy it all looked for him. He played within himself, took opportunities that were there, and always found a way to calmly get to his spots. Tatum is only 20, yet he looks incredibly well-rounded and comfortable on the court. As a scorer, he’s complete, getting to the rim when he wants, hitting shots from anywhere on the court, and ably creating opportunities for everyone. Watch how simply he turns the corner on Ben Simmons then hesitates Joel Embiid out of properly switching, earning an easy dunk.
A much more motivated Embiid switched onto him later in the game, and Tatum cooked his ass. A contested fallaway jumper over a fearsome shot-blocker might not seem like the most analytically amenable shot, but for Tatum, it’s a perfectly efficient way to attack.
In addition to his scoring, Tatum also paired nine rebounds with some stellar perimeter defense on the wing. Tatum is only beginning the second season of his career, but he doesn’t play like it at all. The dude has everything you could want from an offensive centerpiece, including, critically, the patience not to force much. Even without Hayward or Irving going full-bore, the Celtics are deep enough that they don’t need a ballhog or someone who can soak up a ton of empty possessions (excepting, of course, the bench crew minutes where Marcus Morris shoots a million times). Tatum could do that if needed, and the scary thing is that his team is too deep to ever need him to do so.