BOSTON – The very first point scored in the much-anticipated Boston-Philadelphia summer league matchup, was by Markelle Fultz.
But as is the case in the regular season and playoffs, it’s the final point that’s remembered which is why the Celtics and Jayson Tatum were feeling pretty good after Tatum’s jumper with 5.7 seconds left lifted Boston to an 89-88 win over the Sixers.
Fultz, who finished with 16 points, got another crack at carrying Philadelphia to victory only to have his up-and-under shot attempt blocked by Jaylen Brown.
Even though Brown (29 points, 13 rebounds) was easily the best player on the floor for either team, the story of the night centered on the play of Fultz and Tatum.
Having come up through the AAU circuit having competed against each other previously, Tatum knew that Sunday’s game would be in the eyes of many, a big deal because of him and Fultz.
But Tatum refused to let the white noise that hyped up their matchup, affect his play.
“Me and Markelle have known each other a long time from high school, played against each other, all-star games,” Tatum said. “We finally reached our dream and I’m pretty sure we’ll compete against each other for a long time.”
While the Celtics were certainly pleased with the outcome, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was more focused on how Tatum played and not necessarily what stats he registered.
“The most important thing is playing hard and getting a feel for our system,” Stevens said prior to the game. “Whatever happens today, I don’t care with regard to stat line and those type of things. It’s more, ‘are you getting one step closer to being what you need to be to help our team next year?’”
Brown was among the many Celtics impressed with Tatum’s performance, showing an uncanny cool and calmness you don’t see often in rookies let alone 19-year-old ones.
“I told Jayson, ‘take a deep breath, breathe,’” Brown said.
A year ago, Brown was exactly where Tatum was – the No. 3 pick trying to prove himself to his older teammates and to the rest of the league.
“Last year when I was in his spot I was so nervous,” said Brown who repeatedly attacked the rim in his summer league debut a year ago and went to the free throw line but struggled to make shots. “I think I shot 17 free throws and I only had like 15 points. I was so nervous. I could see it in his eyes, he was nervous early.”
Tatum acknowledged he did have some butterflies at the start of the game.
But as it progressed, he calmed down.
And when it mattered most, Tatum was as clutch as they come.
“He has this old soul … he doesn’t get rattled,” said Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen who is coaching the team’s summer league squad in Salt Lake City. “Just kind of plays at his pace, like he’s been here before, at 19.”
And down the stretch, Tatum was pleased that the coaching staff had enough confidence in him to take – and make – his first game-winning shot.
“It put a lot of pressure on me, to take the shot,” Tatum said. “But that’s what summer league is for; to learn some things, if I would have made it or miss it.”