There aren’t many people in the world who can do what Jayson Tatum did Friday night.
For all the great players who came before him in the Boston Celtics’ storied history, Larry Bird is the only other one to ever score 60 in a game.
But after the game, while fans and media were trying to put Tatum’s performance into some kind of historic basketball perspective, Tatum was thinking about his father and his son, Deuce.
After putting his considerable physical talents on full display in Friday’s 143-140 comeback overtime win, Tatum offered a rare peek into what drives him. He said he called his father, Justin Tatum, after the game.
“Everyone knows how close I am with my mom (Brady Cole). She’s always been my biggest fan. She’s always been tough on me, but she’s always shown more love,” he said. “My dad was the one that introduced me to basketball. But his tactics were extreme sometimes. He pushed me when I was younger. We had some rocky times in our relationship because of how hard he pushed me.
“As I’ve gotten older we’ve for sure gotten closer,” Tatum, 23, continued. “Even before tonight to hear him tell me he’s proud of me, means a lot because he never expressed that when I was younger. Not that he wasn’t proud of me, but that was his way of saying I need to do more. I can do better. It kind of drove me in a way to prove him wrong. I wouldn’t be here without him. ... We’ve gotten to a point in our relationship where he’s much more of a dad now. That’s better for our relationship anyway.”
It would have been a memorable game even if Tatum hadn’t piled up a historic point total. It was a roller coaster reminder of how bad and how good the Celtics are capable of playing. The Spurs led 69-37 with three minutes left in the second quarter and 77-48 at halftime.
And with 10:07 left in the third quarter and the Spurs leading 84-53, ESPN’s computer-generated outcome probability had the Spurs with a 99.7% chance to win. People flipped their TVs to the NFL Draft or to the Red Sox game or to Forrest Gump on VH1 and why not? Nobody climbs out of holes that deep. Brad Stevens said his daughter left early and missed Boston’s Tatum-led comeback.
Deuce Tatum, Jayson’s 3-year-old son, stayed for the whole game. Shortly after the final horn Jayson scooped him up for a hug and then let him play with the game ball. Deuce wasn’t at TD Garden on April 9 when Tatum had a career-high 53.
“Jokingly I said I’ve just got to do it again when he’s there. I mean I meant it,” Tatum said. “To score a career-high in a game like this while he’s there is something I’ll never forget and we’ll be able to talk about when he gets a little older.”
Despite being a max contract player and a two-time All-Star, impressing both his father and his son still matters to him. But Tatum said he doesn’t need that or anything else external for motivation anymore.
“I have the utmost expectations for myself and where I’m trying to get to and where I want to be when it’s all said and done,” he said. “I know I’m young and I have a super long way to go, but I’m determined to get there.”