Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said Tuesday night that he is still dealing with the after-effects of contracting for COVID-19 three months ago and has been using an inhaler before games as a means to combat them.
“Close,” he said, after scoring 32 points, along with nine rebounds and five assists, in a 116-115 Boston victory in Portland, when asked whether he’s back to 100 percent. “Very close.
“It’s a process. It takes a long time. I take an inhaler before the game since I’ve tested positive. This has kind of helped with that and opened up my lungs, and, you know, I never took an inhaler before. So that’s something different.
“I for sure feel better now than I did a month ago.”
He added that he isn’t sure how long he’s going to have to use the inhaler, saying it will be until he feels good enough to play without it.
“There’s no exact timetable,” Tatum said. “[It’s] just when I feel comfortable enough and I think I don’t need it.”
Tatum’s strong performance Tuesday night — including hitting the clinching 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds to go — was his latest in a series of them of late, which so happens to have coincided with Boston’s best stretch of the season. The win in Portland was Boston’s sixth in its past seven games, and the Celtics have a chance to go 3-0 on this West Coast swing if they can beat their forever rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, at Staples Center on Thursday night.
Over his past 10 games, Tatum is averaging 29.4 points while shooting just under 50% from the field and just under 40% from 3-point range — including a career-best 53 points in Boston’s overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Perhaps some of that can be tied back to Tatum’s continued progress from the impact of COVID-19, something that several of his teammates have also had to go through over the past few months. Tatum pointed to that after the game to explain, in part, Boston’s disappointing season to date.
“I don’t think our record shows what kind of team that we are,” Tatum said. “I think even though it’s been a weird year, obviously we’ve dealt with some, excuse me, a bunch of things obviously. Stuff, a lot of guys tested positive, certain guys have been injured. But you know right now for the most part, we’re missing Evan [Fournier]. But most of the guys, they’re healthy. I just like the way that we’re playing. Every game is important right now, and we know it’s kind of coming down to the stretch.
“Obviously, we want to win. But I think for myself, us, playing the right way and feeling good about ourselves. We’re not going to win every game, but I think we’re playing the right way and we’re for sure trending in the right direction.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, however, sees his young star doing the same thing he did around this same point last season, when he took off in the weeks leading up to the All-Star Game in Chicago and never looked back.
“This is about the time, number of games, where last year he started taking off,” Stevens said. “And you can kind of see that in the last so many weeks. You can kind of see he’s really into a rhythm of knowing what he wants to do on a given possession and also where his opportunities are going to come from. And, again, it helps when they have all four of those guys out there because then you just can’t load up on him like maybe earlier in the year at times.”
Boston has needed that brilliance in each of the past three games, in which Tatum has scored more than 100 total points and reached the free throw line a combined 34 times. And, having finally garnered some momentum, the Celtics are hoping they can keep it going.
“We’re not excited, we’re not complacent, we’re not content with it,” Marcus Smart said. “It’s a start, beginning of what we know we have to do. We dug ourselves a hole. We know we have to continue to fight, but it’s encouraging. We use that as momentum to build off and on to the next game and try to bring that same energy with these wins to the next game. And that’s really our spirit. We’re not too high on the highs, and we’re not too low on the lows.”