Half-court heave nets Jayson Tatum skills title

He said his mother will get to keep the trophy.

Jayson Tatum celebrates during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Jayson Tatum celebrates during the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. –Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jayson Tatum said he knew he couldn’t let 3-point specialist Trae Young get a clean look in the Skills Challenge, so he decided to launch a 50-footer with the hopes of perhaps knocking Young’s ball off the mark.

Instead, the ball went in.

The 20-year-old Tatum kept his promise of winning his first Skills Challenge by beating Atlanta’s Young in the final with that half-court shot, stunning the fans and completing a successful All-Star Weekend.

The Skills Challenge is a two-man competition where players dribble the length of the floor, pass through a target, run the court to attempt a layup, then race back to the other end of the court to attempt a 3-pointer. The first player to make the 3 wins.

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The speedy 6-foot-1-inch Young raced way ahead of the 6-foot-8-inch Tatum and released his ball just behind the 3-point line. Tatum, trailing Young by about 20 feet, fired away.

“The previous two rounds, the guys were ahead of me, so I let them get a shot attempt so I could get closer to the 3-point line,’’ Tatum said. “I didn’t want to give Trae a chance and, honestly, I didn’t know I was going to make a shot. I just had to give myself a chance and throw it up there and it worked out for the best.’’

Tatum fell behind in each of his first two rounds, against Memphis guard Mike Conley and Denver center Nikola Jokic. Each missed their 3-point attempt before Tatum swooped up and canned his.

The second-year pro scored 30 points in Team USA’s win over Team World in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge and he earned the first Skills Challenge win for a Celtic in the 17-year history of the event.

“My mom likes to steal all my trophies and past jerseys,’’ Tatum said. “She has all my Duke jerseys and state championships. So I’ll let her get this one, too.’’

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The Skills Challenge was sponsored by a national Mexican fast food restaurant. With Tatum nicknamed ‘Taco Jay’ because of his love for them, could there be an endorsement coming?

“I’m going to call [the company] tomorrow and tell them I need a deal,’’ he said. “I need to be on the commercial. I love tacos.’’

Jayson Tatum holds aloft the Skills Competition trophy, which he said is destined for his mother’s house. —Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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