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Tatum Edges Jackson - Again - As C's Down Suns in Phoenix

addByline("Marc D'Amico", "Celtics.com", "Marc_DAmico");

PHOENIX – If Draft night was Round 1, and Monday night was Round 2, Jayson Tatum is well on his way to a TKO of Josh Jackson.

Tatum, who was drafted one slot ahead of Jackson at No. 3 in June’s Draft, edged his rookie counterpart yet again Monday night by leading the Celtics to their fourth straight victory, 102-94 over Jackson’s Suns in Phoenix. Tatum led Boston with 23 points, a mark that tied Jackson for the game’s top total.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Al Horford said of Boston’s rookie forward, “but just making the game simple.”

Both players made it look simple on this night as they went back and forth throughout the contest.

Round 2 began from the opening tip, as the rookies combined to score 21 points during the first quarter. Jackson tallied 12 of Phoenix’s 15 points, while Tatum scored nine of Boston’s 31. They continued to throw jabs through the final quarter, before both players finished the game with 23 points., six rebounds and two steals.

Although Tatum and Jackson finished with identical numbers in three major categories, Tatum was the more efficient and more impactful player.

Tatum shot 55.6 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from 3-point range and made his only free throw. He also recorded his totals in only 32 minutes of action.

Jackson, meanwhile, needed more than 39 minutes of playing time to rack up his numbers while he shot 60.0 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from long distance and 44.4 percent from the free-throw line.

"I had fun watching it tonight," Horford said of the battle between the young and talented forwards.

Monday night was just the latest installment of what may be Tatum’s best offensive stretch as a rookie. He has now scored 23 points during three of his last five outings while averaging 18.8 points per game during that stretch. Boston went 4-1 during those five games, despite missing leading scorer Kyrie Irving, who missed his sixth straight game Monday night due to a left knee injury.

Without Irving, the Celtics are asking Tatum to take on more of a scoring load, and he is excelling in that role. However, as Brad Stevens said after Monday’s win, Tatum isn’t forcing the issue or playing outside of his strengths.

“It’s the same stuff,” Stevens said of Tatum’s recent play. “It’s just more of it, because he’s a guy that can score it efficiently for us.”

To Jackson’s credit, he has been scoring pretty efficiently for the Suns of late as well, and he did so again Monday night. However, Tatum edged Jackson by a hair in the true-shooting category – 62.4 percent to 60.7 percent.

As the numbers showcase, Tatum’s edging out of Jackson is becoming a trend within a friendship that dates back years. Tatum said Monday night that Jackson is “like family,” and that the two became close while playing together in the USA Basketball program.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Josh,” Tatum said. “We played USA together, and we were away for like five and a half weeks, so we did that for like three summers in a row. So me and Josh are real close.”

In more ways than one.

They’re tight friends off the court, and competitive athletes on it who reveal little separation.

However, during the early goings of their tight battles as pros, it is Tatum who has narrowly taken the opening rounds.