BOSTON – A whole bunch of 19-year-olds spent Christmas Day stuck at the kids’ table at their holiday gatherings, unable to muscle their way into a spot at the big table. All Boston Celtics teenage rookie Jayson Tatum did on the holiday was make a cameo in Kyrie Irving‘s new Nike commercial and fuel a fourth-quarter surge in front of a national TV audience.
Tatum scored a team-high 20 points, matching the output of Irving, but despite a dazzling fourth-quarter sequence that helped Boston briefly surge ahead, the Celtics fell to the visiting Washington Wizards 111-103 in Boston’s first-ever Christmas Day home game at TD Garden.
Tatum had a sequence early in the fourth quarter in which he made an absurd turnaround fadeaway jumper on the baseline, one that left Irving celebrating in front of the Boston bench. Then, after Tatum forced the Wizards into a late shot-clock heave, the rookie drilled a 3-pointer that put Boston out front 87-85.
The typically calm Tatum even took a moment to exult, turning toward a delirious Garden crowd and wagging his tongue in celebration.
Terry Rozier pushes the tempo and finds Jayson Tatum for a 3-pointer that gives the Celtics a lead in the fourth quarter.
It’s the sort of energy that Wizards guard Bradley Beal, a childhood friend of Tatum’s in St. Louis, has been yearning to see. Beal was able to admit that a bit more freely after scoring a game-high 25 points while the Wizards quickly moved back out front and controlled the final minutes of the game.
John Wall drops a dime to Bradley Beal, who throws down a one-handed hammer on the fast break.
“That’s something I’m trying to get him out of — even to this day. Sometimes he’s a little too cool. Sometimes he needs to be a straight-up killer and try to take over some games,” Beal said. “But it’ll definitely come for him. He has Kyrie, he has Gordon [Hayward] to learn from. He has a lot of great guys over there to really follow behind and really mold his game into the way he needs to.”
Beal is five years older than Tatum, but knew even before Tatum arrived at Chaminade College Prep School that he had the potential to be an NBA player. Beal was the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft; Boston nabbed Tatum at No. 3 in June.
Beal took to Twitter that night and playfully wrote, “Congrats to my bro [Tatum]. But I will say this Jay, it’s nothing personal, I just can’t like you now.”
— Bradley Beal (@RealDealBeal23) June 23, 2017
Boston’s roster overhaul this summer took away some of the bitterness between these two teams going into Christmas Day. So instead of Jae Crowder poking John Wall in the nose, we saw Irving helping Markieff Morris off the ground.
And after the final buzzer, Beal and Tatum connected near center court, engaged in a quick handshake, then pulled their jerseys up over their mouths for a conversation.
Tatum said he and Beal spent Christmas Eve together in Boston. Because of the age difference, the two had never played each other competitively and finally got that opportunity on Monday.
“We kind of grew up together, that’s like my big brother, the person I looked up to since I was younger. To get a chance to play against him on Christmas, it was fun,” Tatum said. “I told him he wasn’t going to score on me, he told me he was. I don’t think he did. But, I mean, they got the win, so he won.”
Like the rest of the Celtics, Tatum struggled on the defensive end as the Wizards raced away late. The Wizards feasted on offensive rebounds (14 overall leading to 18 second-chance points). Over the final 6:56, Boston had only two rebounds, one offensive carom and one team defensive rebound. The Wizards were 8-of-12 shooting with four offensive rebounds in that span. The Wizards also outscored Boston 60-44 in the paint — a season-high paint points for Washington, and tied for the most paint points allowed by Boston.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’d like to see his team rebound better from the wings, which would include more rebounding from Tatum, who finished with just three caroms.
Still, Beal is proud to see the way Tatum has thrived early in his NBA career.
“It’s amazing to see his growth, man,” Beal said. “I’ve been watching him since he was a pup. Now he’s a man finding his way into the league. He can score the ball in a variety of ways. The crazy thing is I wasn’t impressed because I always see it. I almost call out his moves. But it’s amazing to see him do it on this level.
“He’s going to be a special talent, a star in this league for many years for sure.”