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Jayson Tatum is becoming the envy of many. The Boston Celtics star is hitting superstar status right before our eyes. The three-time NBA All-Star has outdueled Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the national spotlight, and he’s just 24 years old.

Tatum exploded for 39 points as his Celtics earned a road win in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday. The red-hot Celtics go for a sweep Monday. While many are wowed by Tatum’s play, he revealed his two favorite players in today’s game.

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics continue to roll

Jaylen Brown, left, and Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics stand on the court during the third quarter of an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on January 29, 2022, in New Orleans, Louisiana. | Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

It’s been one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent memory. Through 50 games this season, the Celtics were, at best, average. They stood at 25-25, but with two young starts in Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they wildly underachieved. They did the year before as well when they finished the season 36-36.

Something clicked in January. Those blown double-digit leads disappeared. The defense picked up. Thre was no more selfish play.

Maybe the turning point came when Marcus Smart publicly called out Tatum and Brown for not passing the ball. Maybe it came when first-year coach Ime Udoka questioned his team’s mental toughness after blowing a 20-point lead against the New York Knicks. Whatever the reason, the Celtics are a brand-new team.

The Celtics finished their last 32 games by going 26-6. They vaulted up to No. 2 in the Eastern Conference seedings for the playoffs, which once were a definite maybe. Boston drew a tough first-round opponent in the Nets, but the Celtics look to finish off a sweep Monday.

Tatum took charge on the road Saturday with his 39 points. He’s thriving on both ends of the floor. He’s turned his game up a notch on the defensive side of the ball and had gotten his teammate more involved offensively.

Jayson Tatum reveals his top two favorite players in the NBA

The Celtics look like a well-oiled machine, and they may get even better. Saturday’s game marked the return of center Robert Williams, who returned to action for the first time since suffering a meniscus tear in a late-season game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Williams underwent surgery and the expectation was he’d miss 4-6 weeks. He returned short of four weeks, making his first appearance in Saturday’s 109-103 victory. Udoka limited him to 16 minutes off the bench. He finished with two points, two rebounds, and a block.

Where he makes his impact is on the defensive side of the ball. Williams is the rim protector the Celtics need. His athleticism and high energy in the paint make a world of difference for Boston.

Just ask Tatum.

“I might be Rob’s biggest fan,” Tatum said to reporters after the game. “Rob and Bradley Beal are probably my two favorite players. Getting Rob back is huge for our team. Even in limited minutes, how much of an impact he had on the game. Just his presence being a lob threat, rim protector, great passer. Rob was big for us off the bench tonight.”

Beal and Tatum’s relationship goes back to their childhood days. Although Beal is five years older, they had a strong connection growing up in St. Louis. That connection remains true in the NBA.

Tatum and the Celtics can close out a sweep of the Nets on Monday

Tatum finished with more points than Irving and Durant combined. Boston’s stifling defense held Brooklyn’s two stars to 16 points each. The Nets are in danger. Unless they make history by becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-0 deficit, their season will be over.

Tatum and the Celtics turned things up in the fourth quarter Saturday. He said the team fed off Brown with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting.

“JB got rolling,” Tatum said. “Myself and other guys was feeding off his energy. He hit some big shots. He threw a pass to me in the corner. I think his play, especially in the beginning of the fourth, kinds of propelled us. It gave everybody that spark.”

Tatum said the struggles he and the Celtics endured at the beginning of the season are helping them now.

“It was tough to deal with at the time,” he said. “I always said that it was going to make us stronger. I think that a big growth of our team is our mental toughness and how we respond.”

For the last three months, the Celtics have responded quite well.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.


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