LAS VEGAS -- Danny Ainge has said on more than one occasion that if he couldn’t trade away the number one pick last month, he would have used it to select Duke’s Jayson Tatum, a player Boston wound up getting two spots later in the draft.
After seeing Tatum perform against the top two picks in this year’s draft – Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz and on Saturday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Ainge might have been on to something.
Saturday was the latest installment in what has been an impressive string of impressive performances for the 19-year-old Tatum who led the Celtics to a 86-81 win over the Lakers.
He led the Celtics with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
In matchups against Fultz and Ball, Tatum not only had better numbers but wound up getting the victory which speaks to both his impact as a player on the game and the bottom line – winning games.
But Tatum’s performance on Saturday was special because it came in front of a packed gym that was predominantly pro-Lakers.
And as the Lakers stormed out to a 10-0 lead to start the game, Tatum’s demeanor never changed.
As Boston chipped away at the Lakers early lead, there were plenty of Celtics chipping in with points or key rebounds or solid defensive stops.
But when it mattered most, it was Tatum delivering the big plays – not Ball who finished with a triple-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
And while it was just a summer league game, it certainly didn’t have the look or feel of one.
As you glanced at the fans sitting courtside during Boston’s Summer League game against the Los Angeles Lakers, larger-than-life athletes such as Floyd Mayweather could be seen.
And the usual cavernous scene high atop the Cox Pavilion Center on the University of Las Vegas campus was filled with fans, a seldom seen sell-out for a summer league game.
They weren’t there to reminisce over the epic battles waged between the two most storied franchises in NBA history.
They were there to see basketball – or rather Lonzo Ball who was selected by the Lakers with the No. 2 overall pick.
When the summer league pairings were set up, this was supposed to be a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, presumably point guards Markelle Fultz and Ball.
But the Celtics traded the pick and so folks were left with a matchup that while not nearly as tantalizing, it was nonetheless well worth watching as Boston’s first-round pick Jayson Tatum did his part to keep the crowd engaged.
There were other standouts for both teams, for sure.
But when it came to oohs from the crowd, it was very much the Ball & Tatum show.
While Tatum’s strong showing has been exclusively against summer league talent, current Celtic guard Terry Rozier had a chance to play with him and the other summer league guys before they began playing summer league games.
Rozier liked what he saw, for sure.
“He can play,” Rozier said. “He never played rushed. He just played at his level of pace. He was great. He’s a good player.”