Boston Celtics summer league notes: Jayson Tatum has fourth-quarter trouble with Donovan Mitchell

SALT LAKE CITY — Boston Celtics draft pick Jayson Tatum concluded a promising Utah Jazz summer league Thursday night, but did so with his most uneven professional outing to date.

Two disclaimers:

1. Tatum had been great in his two previous performances. Anything less than stellar would have qualified as his bumpiest showing here in Salt Lake City. 

2. Without Jaylen Brown and Demetrius Jackson, the Celtics often used 6-foot-8 power forwards, including Tatum, as primary ball-handlers. An extra point guard would have simplified things for everyone on the Celtics; it was a lot to ask Tatum to initiate offense during his third summer league game. Even when he wasn’t the point guard, his team’s lack of a natural playmaker increased the level of difficulty. 

But after drilling a game-winning jumper in his debut and following that up with an efficient 23-point, 10-rebound double-double, Tatum went quiet — like most of his teammates — late in Thursday’s 68-65 loss to the host Jazz.

As the Celtics scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter, Tatum had a tough time shedding dogged lottery pick Donovan Mitchell. During the loudest sequence of Utah’s fourth-quarter comeback, Mitchell stripped Tatum near midcourt, stared down the No. 3 overall pick to the delight of the Utah faithful, and proceeded to dish a pretty assist after dropping Tatum to the court:


Celtics summer league coach Jerome Allen, who has been quick to shower Tatum with praise this week, was asked whether the youngster received a bit of an education.

“I won’t say an education,” Allen replied. “But what I will say – I give Donovan Mitchell a lot of credit. Like, he played extremely hard and defended and tried to attack on both ends of the floor. But for Jayson that’s going to be the norm throughout the rest of his career.

“Guys are going to try to do whatever they can to impose their will on him to make it difficult for him to score the ball. And I probably need to do a better job of putting him in positions where he could be most effective. But all in all, I thought it was great. I thought Jayson played at his pace. And I give Donovan a lot of credit. But Jayson’s going to see defenders 1-5 on any given night.”

Maybe it wasn’t an education from Mitchell, who had his own offensive struggles with eight points on 3-for-9 shooting, but the matchup illustrated how Tatum’s physique has not yet caught up to his talent. Even while pouring in a load of buckets over three games in Utah, he was nudged off too many cuts throughout the week, letting defenders dictate his path, instead of the other way around. In the long run, that’s OK. Tatum’s a teenager. The Celtics drafted him knowing full well he would need to develop strength. It’s not a shock Tatum ran into some bumps (literally) during his first professional matchup against a hyper-athletic wing. 

Tatum still showed off his impressive skill set, draining a number of tough jumpers early. This is not at all simple:

Tatum finished with a second straight double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds, but committed five turnovers and shot just 4 for 12 from the field. And the fourth quarter went to Mitchell and the Jazz. 

“You just use things like this to get better,” Tatum said. “Every day isn’t going to be great. You’re going to have days like this. And just keep having fun. It’s basketball.”

— Boston’s best player Thursday night was Abdel Nader, last year’s second-round draft pick and the reigning D-League Rookie of the Year. He’s not the quickest guy, but has a knack for driving to his desired area of the court. Even while tasked with initiating some offense, he finished with 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting. 

“Nader’s a hooper, man, straight up and down,” said teammate Jaylen Brown. “No matter what situation you put Abdel in, point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, he’s going to find a way to get it done. I like his game. He’s been balling for us — last year and this year.”