Celtics vs. Timberwolves observations: Jayson Tatum's ceiling on display in monster outing

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Jacob Camenker
·6 min read
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Jayson Tatum's sky-high ceiling on display in monster outing originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

To call the Boston Celtics' win over the Minnesota Timberwolves a back-and-forth contest would be an understatement.

At times throughout the night, it looked like a foregone conclusion that both sides would win. At one point in the second half, the Timberwolves held a 17-point lead over the Celtics, and the C's couldn't make a dent in that lead... until the fourth quarter, that is.

Later on, the C's held an 11-point lead of their own with just a couple of minutes left in the game. It looked like the C's were en route to closing out Minnesota, but the T'Wolves roared back with a 15-4 run that culminated in a game-tying 3-point shot for D'Angelo Russell.

Ultimately, the game went to overtime and the Celtics won. It took every ounce of effort in them to beat the offensively strong but defensively challenged Timberwolves, who looked a lot better than a team that has the NBA's worst record (now 13-40).

But a win is a win, and the C's 145-136 victory will allow them to finish their seven-game homestand with a 27-26 record overall and a 4-3 record in the prolonged stretch in Boston.

For their win on Friday though, one player, above all else, deserves credit for what he did. Let's dive into his performance in our three observations from the Celtics' win against the T'Wolves.

Jayson Tatum was at his best in monster outing

The Celtics were down by as many as 17 points against the Timberwolves, and they needed their stars to step up and help will their team to victory.

Needless to say, Jayson Tatum delivered.

Tatum had what was probably the best game of his Celtics career against the Timberwolves. He was hot from the start and managed to score a career-high 53 points. He is just the fourth different Celtic to score at least 53 points and joined Larry Bird (who did it twice), Kevin McHale, and Isaiah Thomas to reach that milestone.

Tatum did it all on Friday night. He shot 64 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range, but most importantly, he drove to the bucket for most of the evening, as you can see via these highlights from the Celtics on NBC Sports Boston's Twitter account.

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Because of his willingness to drive to the hoop, Tatum was able to notch a career-high 16 free throw attempts. He made all but one of them, and that helped buoy both his scoring effort and the Celtics' comeback.

Tatum's game was truly phenomenal and well-rounded. He also became the youngest Celtic to post a 50-point game in this outing. This performance may have been against one of the NBA's worst defenses, but it did a lot to show that his ceiling remains sky-high as he continues to develop during his fourth NBA season.

Kemba Walker converted big plays when the Celtics needed it

Usually, Kemba Walker is at his best after sitting out the latter end of a back-to-back. However, it didn't look like he was going to have a great game on Friday.

Walker started off the game cold and had only four points entering the fourth quarter. He was passing the ball well, but the C's needed his scoring to heat up in the final quarter if they were going to make some noise.

Walker answered the call. Just 51 seconds into the fourth quarter, he got a chance to take a mid-range jump shot to cut the Timberwolves' lead to one possession. He nailed it.

Then, about a minute later, Walker got a chance to take a game-tying 3-point shot. He made it look easy.

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Kemba continued to do everything asked of him in the fourth quarter and overtime. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Walker posted 13 points, three rebounds, and two assists. He finished with a +10 rating which ended up being the best of the Celtics' starters and second-best on the team to only Payton Pritchard's +13.

It just goes to show that you don't have to have the best shooting day to help your team win. Walker made 35.7 percent of his shots, but it was his effort down the stretch that allowed the Celtics to emerge with the win.

The Celtics' bench is hurting without Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier has missed the last three games for the Celtics. With his absence has come another realization about the state of the Boston bench.

Against the Timberwolves, the C's bench put up just 19 total points. Meanwhile, the Celtics' starters put up a whopping 126. It marked a trend of decreased bench scoring since Fournier first was placed into the NBA's health and safety protocols ahead of Boston's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Celtics' bench is averaging 8.5 points per game fewer in three games without Fournier than they did in four games with him.

Bench blues

C's bench points per game with Fournier

28.8

C's bench points per game without Fournier

20.3

Variation

Double

Granted, both numbers are small sample sizes, but included in that sample is Fournier's worst game of the season in which he went 0-of-10 from the field. Even with that factored in, the bench is noticeably better when the team's best trade deadline acquisition has been available.

Unfortunately for the C's, they are going to be without Fournier for at least another three games, as Fournier won't be traveling on the team's three-game west coast road trip. As a result, the Celtics will be forced to rely heavily on their starters to put up the points needed to earn some victories against some of the best in the west.