Once Jayson Tatum started making contact in Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls, he couldn’t stop. Even after the game is over.
After making a career-high 20 trips to the free-throw line in a Celtics 123-119 win, Tatum made his way to the post-game podium inside the TD Garden where he was asked from the start about his ability to find new ways to draw. contact with opponents. Before he could answer, the Starwing found yet another way, as a backdrop banner unexpectedly fell on his head.
Unharmed, Tatum smiled at the bizarre incident – no harm, no fault in this case – and continued to answer the question as gently as he would knock down a pair of free throws.
“The older I get, I think the more my body develops, the more I’m able to make contact,” he said in the middle of the tongue-in-cheek moment. “Also, just reading when we’re in the bonus, the weather and the in-game situation, I think I’ve improved a lot over the years.”
Tatum fouls 10 against Chicago and knocks down 17 of his 20 charity strip attempts. Three of those marks came in the final 40 seconds, as his 36-point effort helped hold off the Bulls despite DeMar DeRozan’s 46 points and 22 trips down the line.
“He was really aggressive tonight, and it’s great to see he’s able to get so many free throws,” Al Horford said of Tatum, who also used his aggression to dish out six assists. “Number one, he’s doing something right; number two, he is very aggressive in attacking the basket. I felt like he was doing a really good job of knowing when to pick up the foul and when to kick the ball. His decision making was very good.
Perhaps that’s an understatement, considering that there has only been one Tatum turnover among all his goals and assists.
Horford says it’s all part of his ongoing development.
“I just see him being very confident,” the veteran big man said. “I feel like he knows himself more and more. That’s the feeling I have. He knows when he’s going to score, when he has to pass, do reads. Sometimes a lot happens He has this ability to just pick it up and make adjustments on the fly.”
The drawing contact still seems to be one of the biggest adjustments Tatum made from last season to this season. His free throw attempts per game went from a career-high 6.2 to a new career-high 8.6. And he converts those attempts at a career-best 89.9%.
Tatum hopes his continued growth will also inspire his teammates.
“I’m trying to improve in every aspect,” he said. “I’m just trying to be better than I was last season and impact the game everywhere, offensively and defensively. I think it’s contagious throughout the team.
However, his ability to make contact could become too contagious – to the point of following him off the pitch to the podium.