‘It was an honor to play against him’: Kevin Durant shared what it was like to go up against Jayson Tatum

Tatum averaged 30.6 points per game in the Celtics' series against the Nets.

Jayson Tatum received high praise from Kevin Durant after the two faced off in the playoffs. Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Jayson Tatum didn’t get the series win against the Brooklyn Nets. However, the Celtics’ young star still received respect from one of the game’s all-time greats.

In the first-round series, Tatum averaged 30.6 points per game, with his 50-point performance in the Celtics’ Game 3 win being his signature moment of the series.

Nets star Kevin Durant, who was tasked with guarding Tatum for much of the series, thought he did a “solid job” guarding Tatum, but admitted Tatum was a “tough cover.”

“Jayson Tatum, I mean guarding him the whole playoffs – he’s shifty with it,” Durant said on his podcast “The Etcs. with/Kevin Durant.” “He got long arms too so it’s like you don’t want to up the three, you know? ‘Cause he can get hot and that’s how their team gets going but he’s just so good off the dribble. He give you five or six dribbles, hesitations, and then he’s so long to get to the cup that he can finish over bigs.


“You know, he’s a tough, tough cover.”

Durant has a point about Tatum’s length. Tatum’s height is listed at 6-foot-8, but there have been rumors of him being as tall as 6-foot-10. His wingspan is listed at 6-foot-11.

When Durant was reminded that Tatum is just 23, he added “It’s gonna be ridiculous. He’s a tough shot maker.”

While Tatum and the Celtics were knocked out in the first round of this year’s playoffs, it’s his first season that he hasn’t won a playoff series. Durant’s co-host, Eddie Gonzalez, mentioned that Tatum’s already made the Eastern Conference Finals twice, saying Tatum is “battle-tested.”

“I hate that we’re in the same conference,” Durant said with a laugh. “‘Cause I know as he starts to get older and their team, you know, we’re going to be battling with them year in and year out.”

Durant’s gone up against some of the best players in the playoffs over his career, facing LeBron James in the NBA Finals twice and has had matchups against Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and several other stars. Durant said Tatum’s entered that list of some of the top players he’s gone up against in the playoffs.

“I’ve been in the league 13, 14 years, and I started to tally mark matchups and series and players I’ve played against,” Durant said. “When I have conversations with my friends I’m like ‘Oh, I’ve had playoff series against Kobe, LeBron, Tim Duncan, the Memphis Grizzlies,’ like – Jayson Tatum’s in that conversation now because that elite level of player already at 23 and I’m like ‘Alright, I can see where this is going.


“It was an honor to play against him.”

Looking ahead, Durant believes that experience as a top option (such as he dealt with against the Nets) is the only thing Tatum has to improve on.

“He has it all scoring-wise,” Durant said. “…At this point for him, it’s continuing to learn the game and how the game’s supposed to be played. He’s making good passes. Being asked to do so much is only going to make him better.

“We know Jaylen (Brown) was out this series, but having a guy like Jayson and saying ‘For us to have a chance to win this game, you’ve got to have a high number of points for us.’ And he went out there and made it a point after Game 2 to be aggressive to the rim and to get to his spot. I respect him.”

Durant and his Nets squad begin their second-round series against the Bucks on Saturday.

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