Tatum Captures Skills Challenge Trophy via Half-Court Heave

CHARLOTTE – Tallying 30 points and nine rebounds during Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge wasn’t enough to satisfy Jayson Tatum at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. The Celtics wing was keen on returning to Boston with some hardware.

At Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Tatum got his wish. And it couldn’t have been earned in a more dramatic fashion.

After making his way through the first two rounds of the event, Tatum lined up on the baseline at Spectrum Center to face off against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in the Finals. Tatum fell behind his opponent as the pair made their way through the first three stages of the obstacle course, which consisted of dribbling around five stationary defenders, delivering a chest pass through a sideways hoop located on one of the baselines, and then dribbling to the other end of the court for a lay-up.

After they both made the lay-up, the pair turned around and headed back toward the other basket for the final stage – the 3-point shot. Young, however, made it to the edge of the arc before Tatum even made it to half-court. So, Tatum made the split-second decision to toss up a Hail Mary prayer.

The 20-year-old Celtics sophomore watched as the ball sailed through the air, thudded off the backboard and swished through the net, knocking Young’s only attempt off target in the process.

Raising his hands toward the ceiling, Tatum let the thunderous cheers rain down upon him at Spectrum Center as he became first Skills Challenge winner in Celtics franchise history.

“I definitely tried to win,” Tatum said with a smile as he sat behind his freshly polished gold trophy at a podium inside the Hornets’ home arena. “I didn't want to go out there and be too cool. I wanted to leave All-Star with something, just give myself a chance to win.”

Tatum couldn’t have taken a more challenging road to capture the event, as he won all three rounds in comeback fashion.

In the first round, he was randomly matched up against Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. Both weaved their way through the stationary defenders, but Conley earned an edge by making his first chest pass, while it took Tatum two tries. Both players easily made their layups, though Conley made it to the 3-point line first. However, the veteran point guard missed his first three attempts, while Tatum missed just once before swishing his way into the semifinals.

Next, Tatum faced off against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic. This round was a near mirror image of the previous round for Tatum, who once again took two attempts to make the chest pass, while his competition made it on the first try. Jokic made it to the 3-point line first, just like Conley did, but clanked his first attempt off the rim. That gave Tatum just enough time to catch up and deliver a trey on his first attempt, sending him on to the finals.

For the last, and most important round, Tatum went in with a different mindset: If he fell behind the elite sharpshooter Young as he had in the first couple of rounds, he would heave up a prayer.

“The previous two rounds, the guy was ahead of me and I figured I'd let him (Conley and Jokic) get a shot attempt so I could get closer to the three-point line,” Tatum explained. “I didn't want to give Trae a chance. I honestly didn't know I was going to hit the shot, but I had to give myself a chance, throw it up there, and it worked out for the best.”

By taking that chance, Tatum was able to meet his goal by earning a trophy at All-Star Weekend, allowing him to head back to Boston with a smile on his face.

“It's been a great weekend, a lot better than last year,” said Tatum, whose rookie All-Star experience consisted solely of a 15-point performance in the Rising Stars Challenge. “I played well yesterday. We won, so that was good. We lost last year. And I got an opportunity to participate in Saturday Night this year, which I didn't last year. I get to leave with some hardware, so it was a successful weekend.”


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