Boston Celtics

Bell Game of the Week: Jayson Tatum is establishing himself as one of the best closers in the NBA

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Bell Game of the Week: Raptors vs. Celtics [NBA illustrations]

Just over a week ago, the Boston Celtics had fallen two games under .500 as a result of a season-worst three-game losing streak.

It was the first time in six years that the Celtics had been under .500 beyond the 10th game of the season, as last year's Eastern Conference runner-ups had dropped out of the playoff picture with the All-Star break drawing near.

A scrappy win over the Indiana Pacers got them back in the win column, but Boston was still one game below the median and it hadn't won consecutive games in exactly one month with a surging Washington Wizards team coming to the TD Garden.

Trailing by three points with two minutes remaining in the game, the Celtics were going to have to dig in to complete a comeback win after going down by as much as eight points in the fourth quarter. Without All-Star guard Jaylen Brown (who missed the contest due to knee swelling), even more responsibilities than usual fell on the shoulders of All-Star forward Jayson Tatum to step up.

In franchise player fashion, Tatum accepted the challenge and came up clutch as he has so often this season, single-handedly outscoring the Wizards 8-4 in the final two minutes. His run was capped off by a tough game-winning layup to give the Celtics back-to-back victories for the first time since January.

The game-winning bucket with under five seconds remaining was Tatum's third of the season, the most in the NBA. The only other player in the league that has more than one such shot is Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon.

After starting off the season with a game-winning 3-pointer against the Milwaukee Bucks on Opening Night, Tatum would again prove to have ice in his veins with another game-winner against the Detroit Pistons a few weeks later.

The 23-year-old has been calm, cool and collected with the game on the line this season. Including his game-winning buckets, he has five game-tying or go-ahead field goals with under a minute remaining in the game, matching known clutch scorer Damian Lillard for the most in the NBA.

In clutch time, known as the last five minutes of a game with a point differential of five or less, Tatum ranks 10th in total points (64) and seventh in field goals made (21). While he's shooting 43.3 percent from the field on the season, that number jumps up to 46.7 percent when it matters most. He only has six turnovers, he's been a reliable 17-for-19 from the free throw line and on the defensive end, he leads the league with five steals in the clutch.

Tatum being as productive as he has been in the clutch this season could be viewed as a double edged sword. On one hand, he's establishing himself as one of the league's best closers. On the other, it's come at the cost of the Celtics playing the most clutch games in the league. Of greater concern is that they have a losing record in those games, going 10-13.

The season is still young, but Boston will have to be more effective in closing games to have any hope of making some noise in the Eastern Conference.

Fortunately, help should be on the way after the All-Star break. Marcus Smart, who has missed the last 17 games with a calf injury, is expected to return sooner than later. While he's known for his defence - which has left a glaring void for the Celtics during his absence - he is also one of the team's better passers and 3-point shooters. His return will certainly give them a jolt on both ends of the floor.

And speaking of jolts, Kemba Walker is beginning to come into form as the midway break approaches. Following a slow start to the season, he is averaging 26.0 points and 6.7 assists over the team's three-game win streak that includes a marquee win over the LA Clippers. At the peak of his powers, Walker gives the Celtics another weapon that can create a shot for themselves or others when the game goes down to the wire.

Ultimately, that'll help take some pressure off Tatum, but the Celtics will still only go as far as he can take them. Luckily, he continues to step up when his number is called.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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