Celtics forward Jayson Tatum scored six points and had three assists in his first NBA All-Star game Sunday night in Chicago. Nam Huh/Associated Press

Jayson Tatum’s first All-Star Game appearance also marked an arrival of sorts for the Boston Celtics generation he represents.

Paul Pierce was four seasons into his career before playing in his first All-Star Game. Tatum is in his third year. Pierce was part of a muddy Celtics picture managed by the NBA failure of Rick Pitino. Tatum is part of a far more advanced team.

“He’s gotten so much more attention as a young player than probably anybody, I don’t know in this group of guys, at 21 years old, just because he’s been so good since he got here,” said Boston Coach Brad Stevens. “And every game has been meaningful. He’s used to it. I was impressed with the way Jaylen (Brown), after not being named an All-Star, came out and played. I was impressed with the way Jayson, after being named an All-Star, came out and played. I don’t expect that to change. I think Jayson, he understands he’s got a long way to go.”

Based on his surroundings though, his rise could be more rapid than that of Pierce.

When last seen in a Celtics uniform, Tatum was driving on the likes of Montrezl Harrell on his way to 39 points during a double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Thursday. It was quite a springboard for the Celtics, coming on the eve of the All-Star break.

The Celtics, third in the Eastern Conference with a 38-16 record and winners of 11 of their last 13 games, resume play Friday night in Minneapolis at the start of a four-city trip that is among the toughest of the season, considering that it also includes games against the Lakers, Trail Blazers and Jazz.

But led by Tatum, Kemba Walker, Brown, Gordon Hayward – and keeping things balanced down on the other end of the floor, Marcus Smart – the Celtics return for the stretch run as one of the NBA’s top teams in several advanced statistics – third in NET rating and offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating. The only other teams in the top five in each category are the Bucks and Lakers.

“This team’s got good fight,” said Stevens. “It’s got good toughness, and that’s been really fun. This last six weeks has been really hard from the standpoint of not having any more than one day off between games. To finish it off with eight of nine (wins) and to go into the break is a good thing. Now, when we come back from the break, after we take a deep breath, we have to bring that same competitive spirit to that road trip.”

Last season’s Celtics always seemed to buckle at times like this. But Tatum and Brown have stepped out of the 2018-19 doldrums. Walker wasn’t even here.

“Our confidence is up right now,” said Smart. “Last year was tough for everybody. We didn’t get into a groove and it was tough. This year, everybody is playing freely, the way we know we can play and not thinking too much. We’re just letting our game talk for us.

“Last year, a lot of people didn’t really know their roles, where they fit, and this year we’re on the same page. … Obviously we have a lot of things we need to work on to make the next step, but the way we finished the first half of the season, I’m very proud of these guys, and we have to keep it going.”

For starters, they’ll have to back up their previous work on the road against three playoff teams.

“If you want to be a good team, you gotta beat other good teams,” said Stevens. “If you want to be a champion, you have to beat them four times in two weeks.

“I’d say (the Clippers win had) very little significance. But we’ll take it and we’ll move on and try to be as good as we can be when that time comes. I think that’s the bottom line. You have to prove that you can do it, and there’s a lot that we can work on. I think we’re realistic that we have a lot to work on and that’s a good thing. I think guys are embracing that.”


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