How losing to Lakers proved Celtics are title contenders

By WEEI 93.7

Anyone putting together a list of the top-10 players in the NBA has to seriously consider Jayson Tatum as a candidate. Because, on top of everything he’s done this season, Tatum just went into Los Angeles, without Kemba Walker, and made LeBron James and Anthony Davis — two definitive top-10 players in the league — sweat.

Tatum was such a problem for the Lakers that they had to throw a second player at him throughout much of the fourth quarter. Jaylen Brown helped combat Los Angeles’ defensive adjustment, scoring 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting in the fourth as part of his 20-point performance — and imagine if the Celtics had Walker. Maybe Tatum wouldn’t have scored 41, but that’s because he probably wouldn’t have needed to.

“Tatum has reached a new height, man. Superstar level,” Jaylen Brown told reporters in Los Angeles. “And we all have to continue to improve and go with him. The way he’s playing is unreal. We got to continue to find ways to allow him to reach his potential. But at the same time, we have to find ways to win games and be the team we (are) supposed to be.

“He’s been playing unreal, man. It was a joy to watch, and I wish we got the win. But to come in here and do what he did to the Lakers? Not too many people can say they did that.”

Just so easy for him now.

— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) February 23, 2020

It also would’ve helped if Marcus Smart was a little more efficient (4-for-11) or if the bench could provide more than 11 points.

Also, as much as he had nine rebounds and eight assists, Gordon Hayward’s 5-for-15 shooting night should serve as a reminder this whole “he’s back” idea is off-based. He does a lot for this team and has played an important role in some big games, but Hayward being “back” would mean he’s not shooting 30.6% from the floor between the Celtics last two games against teams from Los Angeles — the win over the Clippers before the All-Star break and, of course, Sunday’s 114-112 loss, which is Boston’s second game since the break. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' loss, click here.)

Even with multiple things not going the Celtics way — like the officiating — Tatum stood tall.

In fact, with the way the refs called that game, it only makes Tatum’s performance more impressive — it’s also an alarming reminder about the way the playoffs will be called, but that’s another issue.

Tatum kept the Celtics on track when there were plenty of moments where things could’ve gotten out of control.

☘️@jaytatum0 makes a statement with 41 points (tied career-high)

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 23, 2020

And if Tatum maintains this level of play and continues to gain the respect of his contemporaries across the league, he’s going to get the foul calls some of these stars get. There are still some he doesn’t get, but officials are already handling him differently than they did at the start of the season.

Because Tatum is an elite talent in this league. That’s a fact — and that’s what a team needs in order to win a title.

“I just wish we would have won. That’s all that really matters,” Tatum said after the loss. “I know what I’m capable of, and my teammates know that. We know what each and every guy can do in here. But we just want to win at the end of the day.”

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