Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals was an eye-opener for many. The tensed gameplay had Celtics fans chanting ‘not a rookie’ for Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons. As the fans continued taunting him on Monday night at TD garden, they became louder and more boisterous as the game progressed. They also chanted ‘he’s a rookie’ when Boston’s own Jayson Tatum went to the charity stripe later.
The Celtics recorded an impressive victory over the 76ers with their 117-101 final scorecard. After the team suffered various injuries throughout the season, it was the no. 3 pick of the 2017 draft Tatum who took it upon himself to charge his team to victory. He scored 28 points in the 40 minutes he was on court, recording a postseason career-high. Before him, only Larry Bird was able to make 25 or more points in a playoff game in the past 50 postseasons as a rookie. Bird repeated this feat twice more.
Simmons, on the other hand, finished with only 18 points, complete with seven rebounds and six minutes over the course of his 42 minutes on ground. He was the no. 1 draft pick of 2016 but spent almost the entirety of the 2016-17 season, nursing a foot injury. He later talked about the fan chants and said, “I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me at all.” He downplayed the entire hostile chant event, suggesting that he ought to qualify as a rookie.
Tatum, on the other hand, downplayed the chants too, suggesting that he didn’t hear what the crowd was saying about Simmons. He was also very low key about the possibility of him qualifying as the rookie of the year. He said, “At this point, I’m just focused on winning, not really matchups. Just win. It’s really a team thing right now.”
Note that the fans in the court, as well as outside, have been hyping the Simmons vs. Tatum game for long. They both are great candidates and margining at the top of their game. When Tatum was asked whether he is a better rookie than Simmons, he only paused and smiled to say, “No comment.”
The Celtics have had a hard time this postseason. Their All-stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were absent this entire season. Then, Jaylen Brown suffered a hamstring strain in Game 7 of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, because of which he didn’t attend Monday’s game. As their solid offense line was missing, Tatum had to step up to the opportunity to fill their shoes. At the free throw line, he was 11-of-12 and connected 8 of 16 shots in the game. In fact, he was plus-18 overall during the game.
“Just be aggressive, especially with JB out. That’s 20 points sitting on the bench, and we try to make up for that,” Tatum said.
Al Horford commented, “Jayson, he’s starting to figure it out. He’s understanding what he needs to do, and it’s great to see for our team.”
Note that Philadelphia had passed on Tatum last summer to get the no. 1 pick for getting Markelle Fultz on the team. He was the only player who stayed on the bench for the 76ers during the game and had remained absent for past 68 games.