Jayson Tatum and Stephen Curry shared a long moment together following Saturday night’s primetime showcase between the Celtics and Warriors, embracing and exchanging words of mutual respect for one another like two heavyweights who had just gone 12 rounds deep.
In a way, that’s exactly what they had just done inside TD Garden, as they traded punches in the form of baskets for roughly two and a half hours. Curry dealt 47 blows in the scoring column to Tatum’s 44, but the latter ultimately came out on top in the near-split decision, as he guided Boston to a 119-114 win at TD Garden.
The Warriors started off on a scathing pace, as they took a 16-point lead in the second quarter led by a 3-point barrage from Curry. He finished an absurd 11-of-19 from long range, leaving Celtics coach Brad Stevens stunned in a mixed state of helplessness and appreciation.
“I just hate competing against him. But man, do I love watching him,” Stevens commented after the game. “He is as fun to watch as any player because of his creativity, his mastery of shooting and you just never feel good when you're an opponent. You always feel like you're the next line of a fairy tale.”
However, this fairy tale took a turn near the end of the first half, as it began building toward a happy ending for Tatum. After trailing 66-50 with less than a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter, Boston went on a 10-0 run to end the frame, capped off with three consecutive scoring possessions from Tatum including a step-back jumper to beat the halftime buzzer.
“Tatum's run at the end of the first [half] – the three-for-two where we scored, stopped, scored, stopped, scored going into halftime – gave us a lot of juice and belief,” said Stevens. “Because you could see, we weren't perfect; early on we looked like we were moving in mud a little bit. But then he went to a different level and he was unbelievable.”
Boston maintained its momentum coming out of the break, as its 10-0 run turned into a 28-5 run, which put Boston ahead 78-70 less than five minutes into the second half. And from there, it was a shootout between Curry and Tatum.
Curry wound up with a 16-9 advantage over Tatum in the third quarter, but JT came out on top in crunch time with a 12-9 edge in the final frame. Tatum also hit the go-ahead layup with 48 seconds remaining, while Curry missed two critical 3-point attempts during the final 18 seconds. Tatum would finish the game 16-of-25 from the field, while Curry made a near-identical 15-of-27.
The back-and-forth nature from both a team and individual perspective battle left Warriors coach Steve Kerr speechless when it was all said and done.
“I'm in awe of what I watched tonight," Kerr stated. "From a skill level and level of competition, it felt like a playoff game out there. Both teams were just gassed and competed like crazy, and just incredible shot-making, particularly from Steph and Jayson.”
We’re used to seeing such incredible shot-making from Curry over the years, but Tatum is just beginning to earn recognition for his elite bucket-getting ability. And during their lengthy post-game meeting on the court, Curry made sure to let the 23-year-old know how much he was impressed by his ascension.
"I just told him he's super tough, man," Curry said. "You can tell the game has slowed down for him, just in the way he picks and chooses his spots and how he kind of manages the game. He's shooting the ball a lot better from the perimeter, but when that game slows down, I don't know if it's four or five years in whatever he is, that's when you become lethal. With his skillset, his size, their system features him, so he's a supreme talent. A supreme talent."
Hearing those words coming from the greatest shooter of all time was a special moment for Tatum, and even more so after coming out on top in their epic match.
“Obviously he’s one of the all-time greats,” Tatum said of Curry. “Just to earn his respect and get a win on the same night, it was a good night.”
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