This year, the Boston Celtics/Brooklyn Nets series was expected to be the most competitive first-round series in the playoffs. Instead, the Celtics ended up being the only team to sweep their first-round opponent out of the playoffs.
Boston’s midseason turnaround has now found new life in the postseason. The Celtics overcame some solid play from Brooklyn to send them packing after just four games. Everyone expected the series to be solely about Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for the Nets. Instead, it showcased Jayson Tatum’s talents to the entire league, as he cemented his status as a bonafide superstar in the NBA.
Tatum propelled the Celtics to their first-round sweep
In each of his first five seasons, Tatum has improved with each passing year. His scoring improvements were minimal this season, but he grew as a rebounder, passer, and defender this year to help assert himself as one of the best overall players in the NBA. Tatum acknowledged his performance after Boston’s Game 4 win last night.
“I wasn’t surprised at how I played, I do feel like I’m one of the best players. That’s how I approach the game when I step on the floor, regardless of who is on the other team, so I’m not surprised with how I played.”
Throughout the series, Tatum went toe-to-toe with Durant and came out on top. His averages over the series (29.5 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.5 RPG, 45.6 FG%) show that Tatum was in control of this series. He refused to allow Durant to impact the game he was able to on the other end; is it any surprise Boston is moving on when that’s the case?
Tatum’s growth has been remarkable
You would have been laughed at if you said the C’s would be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference in January when their record was a lowly 18-21. But here we are just a few months later, with the Celtics the first team to punch their ticket to the conference semi-finals stage.
There are many reasons for Boston’s midseason turnaround, but Tatum’s growth as a legitimate superstar is probably the most important. To start the season, Tatum looked perfectly content to settle for low-percentage shots most of the time while his teammates struggled to get involved. Now Tatum is actively leading the offense, taking advantage of mismatches to get looks he likes while also creating looks for his teammates when the defense turns their attention towards him.
Boston probably doesn’t win this series without Tatum stepping up to take on Durant and Irving, let alone in just four games. He eliminated Durant offensively in the first three games, and while he scored 39 points in Game 4, he needed 31 shots to get there. Irving got his looks on offense, but he was happy to shoot over him time and again on the other end of the court.
While the sweep may suggest otherwise, this wasn’t an easy series for Boston. As Tatum said afterward, “Every game was tough, but we (were) locked in from the beginning.” Brooklyn played well enough to beat many other playoff teams, just not Boston. And while it was ultimately a massive team effort, the Celtics and their fans have Tatum to thank for leading the charge.