CLEVELAND – Jayson Tatum has seen plenty of games featuring Cleveland’s LeBron James.
And in the Boston Celtics’ preparation for Tuesday night’s matchup, the 19-year-old rookie had seen plenty of James on film.
But facing him, up close and personal, was something entirely different.
“He’s way bigger than I thought,” Tatum said. “He’s way better than I imagined. That’s the reason why he is who he is.”
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James’ play was among the key factors in Cleveland handing Boston a 102-99 loss on Tuesday night.
But Tatum showed he too has some big-time potential by finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds which included some nifty drives to the basket as well as showing the ability to hold his own on the glass in terms of rebounding the basketball.
The last Celtics rookie to post a double-double on opening night?
That was Larry Bird back in 1980, helping the Celtics to a 114-106 win over the Houston Rockets.
What’s even crazier?
Bird had 14 points and 10 rebounds in that Rockets game, too.
Tatum’s solid performance didn’t seem in the making in the first half when Tatum had missed all five of his shot attempts while tallying just two points.
But as the Celtics mounted their comeback, Tatum’s play was a key to the team’s improved play.
“Just being more relaxed” was how Tatum described his improved play in the second half.
Tatum added, “first half, I think I was nervous and anxious. And then the game slowed down for me. That helped out a lot.”
And the Celtics will need even more from Tatum going forward after Gordon Hayward’s left ankle injury that will keep him sidelined indefinitely.
There was plenty of room for him to improve upon following Tuesday’s game.
But for the most part, head coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw from the rookie.
“Jayson was pretty good,” Stevens said. “He did a pretty good job for a first game. That’s pretty hard to do, to be thrown into this environment, first game and play that well.”