BROOKLYN, NY — Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum entered Saturday night’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets knowing he needed only 16 points to reach a significant career milestone, but the team needed a clutch performance in the fourth quarter to seal off the Nets and preserve its perfect start to the 2023-24 campaign.
Tatum has scored over 10,000 points throughout his NBA career. The 25-year-old star became the youngest player in franchise history to hit the 10,000-point milestone. Then, he netted 18 of his game-high 32 points in the second half, including nine in the final frame.
Jayson scored on back-to-back possessions down the stretch, helping the Celtics rebuild their double-digit lead en route to a 124-114 victory that extended their record to 5-0.
“It’s kind of hard to process in the moment,” Tatum said after Saturday’s win, reflecting on his 10,000-point milestone. “Huge accomplishment. Extremely blessed to be a part of such a great franchise, and I’ve been fortunate to be on some really good teams. I have some really, really good coaches. Obviously, I have some great teammates that have helped contribute to 10,000 points along the way.”
It’s been six years since the Celtics drafted Tatum. The seventh-year forward fittingly reached his milestone at the Barclays Center — the building where his NBA journey began.
“It definitely has gone by fast. I remember getting drafted in this building in 2017. So, time has gone by fast. Just trying to stay present. Stay in the moment, enjoy it,” Tatum said. “10,000 points sounds crazy to just think about. I always think about when I was a kid, growing up with my mom, and saying I wanted to be in the NBA. While I may have thought I would be one of the best players, and to actually do it is a surreal feeling. So, just kind of living out my dream.”
Less than two weeks into the regular season, Tatum’s been on a tear from the jump. Scoring 30+ points in four of the Celtics’ first five games, he’s averaging 30.2 points, shooting at a 55.0% clip from the floor, including 45.2% from behind the 3-point arc.
But the thought of playing for the Celtics wasn’t always ideal, Tatum revealed after Saturday’s win. As the league’s top 19-year-old prospect, he wasn’t sure Boston was the best destination to begin his NBA career.
“Man, I was ignorant when I got drafted,” Tatum said, reflecting on draft night 2017. “I didn’t even want to come because I didn’t think I was going to play. They had Gordon (Hayward), JB (Jaylen Brown), IT (Isaiah Thomas), and (Marcus) Smart, and I didn’t think I was good enough to be on that team. It didn’t even cross my mind how to close a game or how to finish. I was just more concerned about getting in the game and starting. But things happen for a reason, and I got my opportunity.”
Jayson has come a long way from that teenager who was drafted in Brooklyn.
“It’s been a long process,” Tatum added. “I’ve had to learn through the ups and downs. Through my mistakes. Late-game decisions, or whatever it may be, just growing pains. (You) Play in enough games to play in enough playoff series. You learn those things.”
Tatum’s game has evolved in one form or another year after year from a statistical standpoint. And, as a leader who constantly holds himself and others accountable, he’s taken his game to new heights of late — which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla.
“He shows up to work every single day. He puts the work in. He dedicates his life to it,” Mazzulla said after the win. “He doesn’t miss days, he doesn’t miss practices, games. And just his open-mindedness in wanting to be coached, wanting to be held to a high standard. When you have guys like that that you can coach, you see what you get out of him, and it also allows you to bring the best out of everybody. He’s one of the guys that sets the tone… I’m really proud of him, and I know he’s not going to stop.”
The Celtics (5-0) have the best record of the young NBA season. They’re the only undefeated left in the association after the Denver Nuggets gave up their undefeated status in last Wednesday’s 110-89 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who the Celtics face on Monday at Minnesota.