addByline("Taylor Snow", "Celtics.com", "taylorcsnow"); addPhoto("https://publish.nba.com/celtics/sites/celtics/files/tatumuntitled-19.jpg", "Jayson Tatum reacts to a Grant Williams 3-pointer on March 1 vs. the Hawks.", "Maddie Meyer/Getty Images", "tatum");
BOSTON – A ferocious roar rumbled across TD Garden’s parquet floor early in the fourth quarter Tuesday night after Al Horford knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Boston Celtics a seven-point lead over the Atlanta Hawks.
It wasn’t Horford who let out the scream of approval, however; it was Jayson Tatum – the emerging vocal leader of the hottest team in the Eastern Conference.
Boston’s superstar wing, who had just helped his team overcome a 17-point deficit, was up to 28 points and counting. Facing constant double teams from Atlanta’s defense, he took it upon himself to create scoring opportunities for his teammates and to keep them motivated through encouraging enthusiasm.
On this particular play, Tatum was being double-teamed off-ball, on the right elbow, which left Horford open at the top of the arc. As soon as Horford received the dish from Payton Pritchard, Tatum sealed off Gorgui Dieng from contesting the shot, which provided Horford with a wide-open opportunity.
After watching the shot fall through the net, Tatum turned toward Horford and issued a Hulk-like flex-and-roar, which only motivated Horford even more.
Tatum hasn’t always been viewed as an overly vocal leader, but Horford insists that the soon-to-be 24-year-old has turned into one of the greatest motivators on the team.
"Jayson's been, for me personally, he's been huge all year,” Horford said in regard to Tatum’s leadership. “Just in my year, just giving me confidence to be aggressive on offense, to keep shooting the ball through ups and downs. He's been that voice that's always encouraging me. And I think that, for him in a moment like that, I was excited, but you could tell how excited he was and how much that fuels our team.”
During their first stint as teammates, a younger Tatum was more focused on developing and learning from veterans like Horford. But one of the biggest differences that Horford has seen in returning to the Celtics this season, is that Tatum has now transitioned into that role of being a vocal, motivational leader.
“He has taken a step forward in that regard,” said Horford. “He is being more vocal. He's letting us know what he's thinking, how he's feeling. For me, it gives me a lot of confidence, and it's encouraging to know that he has my back. He's obviously really trying to win, he's trying to do things the right way … Seeing him that excited, that engaged, it's a good sign for our group."
Horford understands Tatum’s development better than any other player on the roster, seeing as he has gone through a similar type of transformation.
Early in his career, Horford was a more quiet, reserved player. But as he developed into an All-Star-caliber player, he took it upon himself to become more involved in actively leading his teammates.
“I came in, and I was a certain way,” Horford recalled. “Then I had to start – I understood the impact that some things that I would say, I would have on the group. I think Jayson sees that. He understands that when he speaks, when he says something, it goes a long way – No. 1 because obviously we depend a lot on him. But also, we can see he's trying to win, he’s' trying to play the right way. He's playing good basketball. Anytime he says something, we're all listening, we're all paying attention.”
It's hard not to pay attention when the loudest voice in the arena happens to belong to your superstar player. And it’s comforting to know that whenever the C’s need a boost of motivation, they know exactly who they can turn to for encouragement.