Celtics star Jayson Tatum scored 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting during last night’s Game 2 victory over the Pacers. He was very good, but the best play he made, and the one that should have Celtics fans most encouraged moving forward, involved him passing on what could have been a game-deciding dagger.
With 30 seconds left to play and the Celtics up 92-91, Kyrie Irving brought the ball up on what would prove to be the game’s decisive possession. Tatum set a pick for Irving at the top of the key and then bounced out to the wing, where he found himself wide open behind the three-point line. Irving kicked it over to Tatum, who found himself with a view of the basket and a defender charging at him. This is what happened next:
If you’ve spent much time observing the Celtics’ shockingly disappointing campaign, what happened here was probably a surprise to you. Here was Tatum, who spent the entire regular season prioritizing contested shots and doomed step-back jumpers over dynamic and creative basketball, making a dynamic and creative play when his team needed one most.
After Tatum spent last offseason working out with Kobe Bryant, he returned to the Celtics with a bad case of Kobe Brain. Given how brilliant and idiosyncratic and unselfish he was as a rookie, it was hard not to read all those new bad shot attempts as a reflection of his new mentor’s worst impulses. Tatum’s struggle with Kobe Issues were at least partly responsible for the Celtics farting their way to an underwhelming fourth seed in the East. We’ve seen flashes of the previous, untainted version of Tatum at times this season, but no such cameo was as meaningful as last night’s. The Celtics entered the playoffs playing such a morose brand of basketball that they seemed a reasonable upset choice even against the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers. That may yet happen, but if Tatum keeps making plays like he did last night, instead of listening to whichever of Kobe’s dark whisperings still linger in his ear, Indiana is going to have a tough time erasing that 0-2 series deficit.