A person can make a prediction and, as they wait to see if it is correct, hope it is wrong.
Last week, I wrote that Cleveland would prevail in its NBA East Conference Finals series over the scrappy Boston Celtics even if the Cavaliers fell behind 2-0 in games.
The difference in the series was the simple fact that the Cavs had LeBron James and the Celtics did not. James turned in an outstanding performance – far from his best – in an 87-79 Game Seven victory last Sunday in the Boston Garden.
He tallied 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting with 15 rebounds and 9 assists.
He’s still the “The King,” but a new prince took the court and has now caught the eye of every NBA fan.
Folks, Jayson Tatum of St. Louis is the real deal. The rookie almost led the depleted Celtics over the Cavs and into the NBA Finals. It will be Cavs v. Golden State Warriors for a fourth consecutive season, but Tatum’s crew gave the Cavaliers all they could handle.
And James knows it.
“I just love everything about the kid, the way he plays the game, his demeanor, where he comes from,” James said of Tatum following Game Seven.
“I just know he's built for stardom. He’s built for success. And that’s both on and off the floor.”
James immediately found a despondent Tatum on the court as the final buzzer sounded. Tatum, a fan of James who reached out to James via Twitter as a boy, appreciated the gesture.
“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 a team-high 24 points, which was 30 percent of the Celtics’ total. He played 42 minutes in the physically grueling contest and added seven rebounds, an assist and a steal.
He averaged 18.5 points over his 19 postseason games, almost five points more than his regular season average. His rookie playoffs campaign put him in the NBA record book just shy of a guy named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Tatum tallied 351 total points in 19 playoff appearances, the second-highest total in league history by one point behind Abdul-Jabbar’s 352 points in 1970. Known as Lew Alcindor his rookie year before changing his name, he accomplished the feat in just 10 games.
Tatum became the first rookie since Abdul-Jabbar to register 10 games of 20-plus points in a single postseason, and his seven straight 20-point games established a new NBA rookie record.
Tatum is also correct in saying his team came up just a few made shots short of pulling off the upset.
With less than seven minutes left in the game, Tatum didn’t shy away from the defending James and rammed home a dunk over him. The Boston Garden crowd went wild and Tatum gave James a slight bump as he celebrated.
“I meant no disrespect by it. Just in the moment, made a play. Just showing emotion,” Tatum said.
After a turnover by James, Tatum drilled a three-pointer with just more than six minutes to play and Boston led 72-71. It was the last lead the Celtics would hold as the Cavs rallied for the win.
After the loss, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the best is yet to come for Tatum.
“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.”
Remember, the Celtics lost superstar forward Gordon Hayward for the year on the first night of the season. Then All-NBA guard Kyrie Irving went down with a season-ending knee injury at the season’s midway point.
Tatum had to step up in minutes played, scoring and guts.
“Unbelievable," was how veteran Al Horford described Tatum.
“For somebody to go through this their first time and go through a full NBA season 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.”
Tatum entered his rookie season as a heralded rookie out of Duke. He’ll enter his second season as a true NBA star, playing for a team with a legitimate chance to win the NBA title.
Grades of shame
Missouri’s basketball program narrowly missed punitive action from the NCAA because of a poor four-year showing in Academic Progress Rate (APR).
The Tigers tallied a 955 in 2016-17. Alarmingly, this brought the four-year APR to 932 – just two points from the 930 needed to avoid sanctions.
Transfers are the main reason for the low APR, and Mizzou has had a few more since Cuonzo Martin took over the team last year. A low score of 851 in 2013-14 has left the Tigers in peril for three years, but that score will now be part of the four-year cycle.
As embarrassing as this could be for Missouri, the state of HBCU basketball is shocking when looking at these same numbers.
Among the Top 20 lowest scores are Alabama A&M: 884; Alcorn State: 895; Morgan State: 907; Grambling State: 912; Prairie View A&M: 930; and North Carolina A&T: 934.
Another Missouri school, Southeast Missouri State, clocked in with a 918.
The only other Power 5 conference school among the bottom feeders is Ohio State with a 936.
The presidents, athletic directors and basketball coaches of the HBCU schools should all face termination if the horrible academic progress continues. Transfers or not, it’s obvious that there is not enough emphasis placed on academics within their respective basketball programs.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.