Tatum Flies High in Another Stellar Second Half

ATLANTA – So apparently, Jayson Tatum really likes the second half.

The first half is for his teammates. The second half is his – at least for the time being.

Two nights after scoring only two points during the first half and then 10 during a second-half comeback win against Golden State, Tatum starred in a similar act against the Hawks.

He went scoreless during the opening two frames in Atlanta, missing all four of his field goal attempts while his teammates kept the Celtics afloat. Then he scored 14 points during the second half to spark yet another comeback win.

“I don’t know what the deal was tonight,” Brad Stevens said of Tatum’s first half. “He was, for whatever reason, pretty tentative.”

Tatum, staring in disbelief at the ceiling of the locker room after the game, added, “I missed easy shots… I missed a layup today.”

Breathe a sigh of relief, rook. Not many will remember that first-half goose egg after the show you put on during the third quarter.

Tatum scored all 14 of his second-half points during the third period – more than all but six players scored in the entire game. He made five of his seven shot attempts during the quarter, including a trio of thunderous slam dunks that brought the Celtics bench to its feet.

The first dunk arrived at the tail-end of a coast-to-coast play by Tatum. He stole the ball from Kent Bazemore at one end and took it the length of the court for a slam that would ignite his night. The entire play took four seconds to unfold.

“That was my first bucket, an easy one,” he recalled. “I kind’ve relaxed and settled down after that.”

Yeah, you could say that.

Tatum would go on to score 12 more points during the frame, including 10 over the final 4:33 of the period. He capped the quarter with two more coast-to-coast slams, the second of which elicited a rare show of emotion from the 19-year-old.

Tatum took the ball up court in transition after a defensive rebound, and shortly after crossing the half court line on the left side of the court, he noticed an open driving lane right down the middle of the paint. He can thank Aron Baynes for that, as the big man set a heck of a screen on John Collins.

What happened next looked a whole lot like something you’d see on SportsCenter from the Greek Freak in Milwaukee.

Tatum took one dribble, just inches inside the 3-point line, and used two steps to cover the entire distance from the 3-point line to the basket. He rose up from the middle of the paint, extended the ball high toward the roof of the building, and threw down an eye-popping jam as Collins fouled him from behind.

As his feet returned to Earth and landed along the baseline of the court, Tatum immediately spun toward the Celtics bench, screaming at the top of his lungs to his fired-up teammates while clenching his fists at his waist and flexing his entire upper body.

It was a rare, emotional moment for a kid who has been called “an old soul” by assistant coach Jerome Allen for his cool, calm and collected demeanor.

“That’s rare for him,” teammate Marcus Smart said with a smile. “He doesn’t usually do that.”

At that moment, Tatum had every right to celebrate.

His and-one dunk provided the Celtics with a 78-75 lead during the final minute of the quarter. He capped the period with two free throws to retain that three-point advantage as the two teams headed to the fourth quarter.

Tatum deservedly played the entire third period. He was just too good for Stevens to take off the court – a far cry from the level of offensive play the rookie displayed during the first half.

He didn’t play much during the fourth quarter as a result, but he didn’t need to. He had lit a fire under his teammates with his 14-point outburst, and they took it from there.

In a span of only two games, Boston has seen Tatum take over two games at the offensive end, but it has also seen him disappear in two games at the offensive end. Such is the life for a 19-year-old rookie who’s oftentimes the fourth or fifth option on the court.

“I just think a lot of the times he may get lost in the shuffle a little bit because other guys are trying to get going, whether its myself, Kyrie (Irving), Jaylen (Brown),” said Al Horford. “There’s just a lot going on, and for some reason he gets lost in the shuffle a little bit.”

Tatum stated that he made it a point to be more aggressive during Saturday’s second half, much like he did during Thursday’s second half, and look what that got him: 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting, fueled by three highlight-reel dunks.

Good luck to Boston’s opponents if Tatum decides to showcase that aggression during the first half, too, as the C’s continue their incredible start to the season.