LeBron James Declares Jayson Tatum as an 'Absolute Problem'

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

LOS ANGELES – Jayson Tatum shared a court Sunday afternoon with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The thing is, Tatum was the best player who touched it.

Tatum was a dominant force while matching his career high of 41 points during a 114-112 defeat to the Lakers in LA. He took over during the second and third quarters, scoring 36 combined points during those periods despite the long list of defenders and defensive tactics the Lakers threw at him.

Tatum was so impressive that James, who scored 29 points himself, held a long embrace with Tatum after the game, and then publicly endorsed Tatum in his postgame comments and in an Instagram post.

“The kid is special,” James said after the contest. “Obviously that’s a reason he’s a first-time All-Star, and he’s been special all year.”

Within a few hours of the game ending, James then took to Instagram to show the world the respect he has for Boston’s budding superstar.

“That boi to the left of me is an ABSOLUTE PROBLEM!!” James wrote in his post.

Tatum posted the same photo shortly thereafter, along with the caption, “Moments you live for! Just a kid from St. Louis.”

Tatum chose not to reveal what James said to him during their postgame embrace on the court, which lasted 13 seconds, when he was asked about it in the locker room.

Most likely, the message from James involved encouragement to keep working, as well as confirmation that Tatum can become one of the best players in the world. After all, he’s already trending in that direction at the ripe age of 21 years old.

Tatum has averaged 27.6 points per game since Jan. 11, a stretch that includes two 41-point efforts, five games of at least 30 points, and 10 games of at least 25 points. That average ranks eighth in the NBA over the last six weeks.

His scorching-hot stretch culminated – at least for the time being – Sunday with a performance that opened eyes across the country and led to ESPN color commentator Mark Jackson saying simply of Tatum, “He’s got it.”

Tatum’s teammates agree.

“Tatum has reached a new height, man,” Jaylen Brown said Sunday. “Superstar level.”

Added Gordon Hayward, “Certainly, I think he has taken it to another level.”

The Lakers found that the only way to get Tatum off of that level Sunday afternoon was by throwing something at him that he had never seen before.

Beginning late in the third quarter, and extending through the entire fourth quarter while Tatum was in the game, Los Angeles sent double-teams and traps at the talented wing every time he touched the ball. Asked after the game if he had ever seen that many double-teams, Tatum replied simply, “No, that was the first time.”

Which is why it worked.

Tatum accounted for only four points on 1-for-3 shooting during the final period, although his two misses were on simple layup attempts that he still managed to create, but was unable to finish. He was mostly turned into a passer for his seven-plus minutes of action during the final frame as the Lakers did everything they could to make other Celtics beat them.

Hayward, who along with Kemba Walker are the only members of Boston’s team who have substantial experience facing double-teams and traps, spoke about the challenge of facing such defensive tactics for the first time. He noted that the adjustment does not fall solely on the shoulders of the star player who’s being targeted.

“Certainly, it’s another level when it starts happening to you,” he said of the double-teams. “I think it’s not just on the person who’s being doubled; you’ve got to have an outlet, you’ve got to have guys in the right spots. We’re going to have to be – all of us are going to have to be better.”

Boston still managed to score 25 points on 52.9 percent shooting during the fourth quarte. Still, the C’s know they can get even better against double-teaming defenses. Tatum knows he can get even better against double-teaming defenses.

Once the third-year wing learns how to attack such schemes, the game will open up even more for the rest of the talented Celtics who are on the court with him.

“They’re trying to take the ball out of someone’s hands, so they’re leaving somebody open,” Hayward said of the strategy. “We have a lot of weapons, so we should take advantage of that.”

The Celtics will in due time. This was, as Tatum confirmed, the first time he has faced such a defense, and the first time Boston has faced it with Tatum as the target. He will learn, he will adjust, and he will get better.

That’s a scary notion.

Tatum has already ascended into a new stratosphere – one of which few NBA players occupy. He has played like a superstar for the past six weeks and on Sunday outperformed James and Davis, two of arguably the top five basketball players in the world.

Tatum has become an absolute problem for opponents. James said it himself.

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