(Winslow Townson)

JT Climbs One More Rung on Under-25 Scoring Ladder as C's Edge Cavs

BOSTON – Jayson Tatum, in what was the final game before his 25th birthday, needed 40 points to move into the top 7 on the NBA’s all-time under-25 scoring list.

He made it Wednesday night – with just 17 seconds to spare – while leading his Boston Celtics to a 117-113 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden.

Tatum, whose milestone birthday is Friday, entered the game 39 points behind Giannis Antetokounmpo's 7th-place mark of 9,427. He tied Antetokounmpo on a free-throw make at the 3:17 mark of the fourth quarter, and then pushed past the Greek Freak exactly three minutes later when he knocked down a pair of critical free-throws to help seal the victory.

Only six players will remain above Tatum’s pre-25 scoring mark of 9,429 points: LeBron James (13,927 points), Kevin Durant (12,258 points), Carmelo Anthony (10,768 points), Kobe Bryant (10,658 points), Tracy McGrady (10,420 points), and Devin Booker (9,481 points).

That’s not bad company, especially considering how Tatum was not his team’s primary scorer during his first two seasons, dealt with COVID-shortened campaigns in his third and fourth year, and did not skip college before going pro as James, Bryant, and McGrady did.

Also, of those top seven, Tatum is the only one who committed fewer than 1,000 turnovers before turning 25.

It’s hard to believe that the “forever 19” kid is about to hit the quarter-century mark and it’s even more amazing to see all that he’s accomplished during his six years in the NBA.

He ranks near the top of the league historically in so many under-25 statistical categories, such as wins (sixth), plus/minus (second), playoff points (third), playoff rebounds (fifth), and regular season and playoff wins combined (sixth). He’s atop several franchise under-25 lists, as well.

Though, Tatum claims that he’s yet to bask in these personal achievements because all he’s focused on is staying in the moment and winning the next game.

“I never really take time to think about where I’m at or the things I’ve accomplished,” he reflected after his final game at age 24. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment, stay present because these six years in the league have flown by. But I’d like to think that I’ve been doing alright, and hopefully continue to get better and stay healthy and improve and win some more games.”

On Tuesday night, Tatum wasn’t focused on passing Antetokounmpo on the under-25 scoring list or becoming just the third player in Celtics history to log 20 career 40-point games, joining Larry Bird (47) and Paul Pierce (21). His goal was simply to regain his rhythm after shooting an uncharacteristic 36.7 percent in his first three games following the All-Star break and help the C's bounce back from Monday night's loss in New York.

By staying in the moment, Tatum put those last three games in the rearview mirror and moved on with ease, shooting 13-of-21 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.

Along with his 41 points, JT also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out eight assists, becoming just the third player in franchise history to achieve such marks in a game along with Larry Bird and John Havlicek.

“It’s a long season,” he said of the ups and downs of the 82-game grind. “Nobody has a great day at work every day of the year; everybody has bad days. But you’ve got to take the good days with the bad days. I say it all the time: ‘Never get too high, never get too low.’ And regardless of what happens, you can’t change it. You’ve got to get ready for the next one and move on.”

It's because of that mentality that Tatum has been able to climb toward the top of so many leaderboards at his age. Now, he’s ready to move on to year 25, and more importantly, to his team’s next matchup with the Brooklyn Nets Friday night.