BOSTON -- Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum is still waiting for LeBron James' Twitter follow back, but he might have earned something far more meaningful during the 2018 Eastern Conference finals: James' respect.
James sought out Tatum on the floor at TD Garden after the Cleveland Cavaliers' 87-79 Game 7 triumph on Sunday. Then James showered Boston's 20-year-old forward with praise at his postgame news conference.
"I just love everything about the kid, the way he plays the game, his demeanor, where he comes from," James said. "I just know he's built for stardom. He's built for success. And that's both on and off the floor."
Tatum, Boston's leading scorer in the postseason, scored a team-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds over 42 minutes in Game 7. His first-quarter outburst helped Boston build an early 12-point lead, and Tatum briefly helped the Celtics rally ahead in the fourth quarter before James clinched his eighth straight trip to the Finals.
During Boston's late-game charge, Tatum stormed the paint and dunked over James. Then Tatum bumped him while exulting in the aftermath.
"I had to get him back for the two shots he hit on me in Cleveland," Tatum said, referencing a couple of late daggers that James hit to secure Cleveland's Game 6 win. "I meant no disrespect by it. Just in the moment, made a play. Just showing emotion."
Tatum admitted that James' seeking him out after the final buzzer meant a lot to him.
"That was a special moment for me," Tatum said. "It's my first year in the league. I grew up watching LeBron and asking him to follow me back on Twitter, going to his camps. So just to be able to compete against a player like him and be a few shots away from beating him and his team to go to a championship is something I will always remember."
Tatum finished with 351 total points in 19 playoff appearances. That's the second-highest total in league history, falling just one point shy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 352 points in 1970 (though then-Lew Alcindor did it in just 10 games). Tatum became the first rookie since Abdul-Jabbar to register 10 games of 20-plus points in a single postseason.
Celtics coach Brad Steven suggested that Tatum has only scratched the surface of his potential.
"He can get a lot better. That's the fun part," Stevens said. "I think there are so many little things that he'll continue to improve upon, but he's not afraid. He's tough-minded and obviously has a special talent for putting the ball in the basket."
Sharing a stage with Tatum at a news conference following Boston's Game 7 loss, veteran Al Horford heaped praise on Tatum as well.
"Unbelievable," Horford said. "Just the way that he took the season in stride and just kept pushing. For somebody to go through this their first time and go through a full NBA season -- he played, I think, pretty much every game -- and to be in these pressure situations in the playoffs, his composure, making play after play and really just poised and ready for moments all year. I couldn't ever imagine him playing at this level and in this magnitude."
It's the presence of players such as Tatum and second-year swingman Jaylen Brown, coupled with the expected return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, that leaves Boston optimistic about its chances to trek deeper in the playoffs in the future.
Stevens said he'll take a couple days to get away from basketball with the season over but admitted that he is already eager for the start of the new campaign.
"Training camp can't come soon enough," Stevens said. "Those will be some fun practices, I'm pretty sure."
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