Jayson Tatum made sure the Boston Celtics would be just fine without Jaylen Brown as he drew praise from the opposition after defeating the Detroit Pistons 111-99 on Monday.
Brown was a late withdrawal due to illness in the hours leading up to tip-off, while the All-Star was joined on the sideline by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart as he recovers from an ankle injury.
It was shaping up to simply not be the Celtics' night as Tatum reached half-time with as many fouls (three) as made field goals, but they were kept afloat by an inspired shooting performance from rookie Sam Hauser.
In his first NBA start, Hauser made five of his six three-point attempts in the first half, while Derrick White had 15 points by the long break on his way to a terrific stat line of 23 points (eight-of-17 shooting), seven rebounds and seven assists.
Tonight's @JetBlue Play of the Game Dwhite got bouncy on this poster worthy play pic.twitter.com/d3MemQzCVR— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 7, 2023
Hauser cooled off significantly in the second half – not hitting another shot the rest of the way – but Tatum came out in the third quarter on fire and helped the Celtics jump ahead by 20 with 18 points in the period.
Tatum ended up with 34 points (11-of-24 shooting), 11 rebounds and six assists, and Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said afterwards that there is a feeling of inevitability when facing the MVP candidate.
"You hope that he doesn't keep going, or get going," he said. "We tried to trap him, get the ball out of his hands, and he made good decisions.
"You know at some point, he’s going to be a superstar… I watched those guys grow, they had the same growing pains as our young players did, and to see where they are now should be motivation for our young players."
Pistons point guard Killian Hayes added: "A guy like that, you give him any opportunity, he’s going to take it. He didn't make a three-pointer in the first half, and then he hit one and he's hard to guard. A guy like that, you can't let him get going."
Welcome to JT’s Island pic.twitter.com/ReWhBQEdAi— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 7, 2023
Meanwhile, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla decided to focus on his role players, highlighting his belief in Hauser and big-man Robert Williams III after the latter became the first Boston player to ever record 15 points, 15 rebounds and two steals in less than 30 minutes of action.
"I thought [Hauser] was great in the first half," he said. "The decision [to start him] – I just trust his work ethic, and I trust his mindset, so I thought it was a good opportunity for him to play and get us in a different flow on the offensive end.
"When he's in, our off-ball creativity is there, our after-action is there, and our early-offense spacing is there. I thought he would help that – and I watch him work every day. All those guys, I know they're always ready.
"[Williams] is getting more assertive offensively, but we're getting more organised about how we can use him – he's not just a guy who's going to stand under the basket and get offensive rebounds.
"We need him to be a great screener against different coverages, consistently. We need him to be a playmaker in the seam versus the blitz, and we need him to create two-on-ones for us.
"I thought we did a really good job of making a point of emphasis to get him the ball and make him a playmaker to kickstart our two-on-ones – we need that from him."
With the win, the Celtics improved their league-best record to 38-16, one game ahead of the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks.