Jayson Tatum returns to superstar form: 6 takeaways from Celtics vs. Mavericks

Plus: Marcus Smart's costly mistake and more.

Celtics Mavericks takeaways
Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic follows through on his game-winning shot against the Boston Celtics. AP Photo/Matt Strasen

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics fell 107-104 to the Mavericks after Luka Doncic canned a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

1. Marcus Smart is a good player — a truly masterful defender and a veteran. The Celtics aren’t going to make a rash move based on a brutal two-possession sequence. 

But Smart undeniably put together a brutal two-possession sequence to end Saturday’s game.

The second bad decision will get most of the coverage: Smart gave a take foul on Doncic with 11.4 seconds left, erasing the shot clock and allowing Doncic to dribble the remaining seconds off the clock before hoisting the game-winner.


“It was not supposed to be a foul,” Ime Udoka said after the game. “A few of the guys asked me coming out of timeout and I let them know. Just a mistake there. But that’s on me. I’ve got to let everybody know and make sure they know.”

With all due respect to Udoka, that foul was not on him. Smart has been around long enough to know better.

The possession prior wasn’t great either. Smart drove at Kristaps Porzingis and did appear to be fouled, but the contact was relatively light. That wasn’t a particularly big deal at the time because the Celtics had the 2-for-1 (which might have made the timing of Doncic’s shot a little more difficult), but it certainly didn’t help.

For most of Saturday’s game, Smart was pretty good. He took only five shots, made a huge 3-pointer late, dished out six assists with just two turnovers, and defended Doncic as well as can be expected. He just needed to be better at the worst possible time.

2. Jayson Tatum has been posting affirmations on his Instagram. When asked about the practice after dropping 32 points on 12-for-19 shooting on Saturday, Tatum said he understands that a lot of kids look up to him.


“Your favorite player struggles,” Tatum said. “They miss shots, they go in slumps. Understanding that I’m going to figure it out. I don’t doubt myself. It’s a process.”

Tatum heard all of the criticism from the Celtics’ lackluster start, and the heat he took for his role in it. He shot just 37.3% overall and 27.1% from 3-point range with a point-guard’s usage rate (31.8) in the Celtics’ first eight games. Fans and media questioned him ceaselessly (for good reason, we would argue, given his importance to the team).

“You see everything people say and you hear everything, but that’s part of it,” Tatum said. “I should be worried if you guys stop talking about me. That would be a problem.”

On Saturday, however, he was everything the Celtics needed — particularly with Jaylen Brown out. He punished the Mavericks from behind the arc (6-for-8 from deep), and when they closed out hard, he beat them to the basket with a number of impressive dribble moves. When they trapped him and took the ball out of his hands, he moved the ball well and got the Celtics’ offense moving. When he left the floor, the offense ground to a halt — he was a team-high +5 in a game the Celtics lost by three.


The Celtics will justifiably be disappointed they lost a game they could have stolen on Saturday. If Tatum is himself again, however, they will bounce back quickly.

“I knew I was struggling on that end to play well and hit shots, but I’ve put too much time in and too much work to doubt myself or what I’m capable of,” Tatum said. “My teammates, my coaches and everyone we play knows what I’m capable of. You go through periods like that where things aren’t going the way you want them to go. You keep working and embracing it and figuring it out.”

3. One game after breaking back into the rotation with aplomb, Aaron Nesmith went 0-for-5 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range — a tough look for conductors on the “Nesmith Should Play More” hype train.

4. Aside from Tatum, the Celtics were 3-for-23 from deep. The worst offenders: Dennis Schröder (1-for-6), Nesmith (0-for-4), and Horford (0-for-4).

Schröder is an interesting case, because the Celtics really need his offense and he does provide a modicum of 3-point shooting. But on nights when he struggles, he might be better served passing or driving out of some of his triples.

Still, Schröder’s speed and ability to collapse the defense were key at times on Saturday. Porzingis in particular had no chance when the Mavericks let him get switched onto the speedy point guard.

5. Doncic’s game-winner left Josh Richardson — Doncic’s former teammate, who was the primary defender on the play — shaking his head.


“It was a good shot,” Richardson said. “I think I guarded it well. I think, I mean, Luka’s a great player. I played with him last year and seen him hit game-winners plenty of times. It’s tough but you’ve got to give credit where it’s due. …

“I knew it was coming. But he’s also 6-8, shoots above his head. It’s tough for anyone to guard it. Good defense, better offense.”

The Celtics as a unit struggled to defend Doncic. Horford in particular seemed to have a tough game getting out to the 3-point line to contest. Doncic finished 5-for-10 from behind the arc.

6. Tatum was asked about Smart’s comments after the Bulls game, and whether it would have been better to keep those grievances in-house.

“I think you are asking that question, I think you know,” Tatum said, smiling.

The reporter pressed Tatum for an answer.

“You know, it happened,” Tatum said. “I’m a big believer of whatever happened, happened. You can’t change it. Let’s move on and try to figure it out.”

And with that — five days after it started, a fact we can credit to Tatum and Brown not taking questions after the Bulls game — we can probably close the book on the “Smart calls out Tatum and Brown” storyline. Next up (probably until Wednesday): “Why did Smart foul?”

You can’t say this team ever lacks for drama.


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