Jayson Tatum may have been born in St. Louis, but he is unmistakably a Boston native.
Tatum demonstrated his talent in his rookie season with a dunk on LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals that is still remembered to this day.
Since being selected third overall in the 2017 NBA Draft, Boston has been Tatum’s home, with the Celtics’ fanbase embracing him from the start and never letting go of their admiration for the superstar forward.
Since then, the Celtics fans always believed this moment would come and that Tatum could deliver it. Now, on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old will lead a squad onto the TD Garden floor seeking to win an NBA Finals game when his team faces the Golden State Warriors, live Arena & Main Event, from 1.45am overnight.
“That would mean everything,” Tatum said. “And that’s why you play those games. To win at the highest level, to be the last team standing, to be a champion… as a kid, that’s what you worked for. To get an opportunity to do that and hopefully, you know, raise one, I’d be the happiest man in the world.
Tatum told us how significant it would be to form part of the team that leads to championship banner No 18 being raised into the rafters.
“I’m excited, though, my first finals game at home in Boston. You know, they’ve been great all season, all playoffs. So I can only imagine how the atmosphere is going to be, how exciting it’s going be. It’s going to be great so I can’t wait for Game 3.”
The Celtics managed to split the opening two games on the road in Golden State and it makes for interesting reading how they went.
Boston took Game 1 on a night where Tatum shot just 3-for-17 from the field. He did, however, add to his eventual 12 points with 13 assists and just two turnovers. In Game 2, his team-mates, who had carried the scoring load in his absence in the series opener, faltered collectively in terms of hitting shots, shooting just 37.5 per cent overall and struggling to make anything inside the 3-point line. Although Tatum himself scored 28 points, the Celtics fell to a 107-88 loss.
Perhaps it has been difficult, so far, to find a balance between being the leading scorer and a primary facilitator against Golden State – so what is the key to ensuring he maximises his ability to do both in Game 3? “Just not overthink it,” Tatum said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life. I think the mindset is do whatever it takes to win. At any given night, that could be something different, right? It’s just basketball, it’s not too much pressure. Go out there, have fun, play the right way, and always take care of it.
“I expect to play well tomorrow. As long as we win, that’s all that matters. Do my part to go out there and try to make sure that we get a win.” The Celtics had five turnovers and just four baskets during a crucial third quarter in Game 2, which left them with insurmountable 23-point deficit, and Tatum admits that taking care of the ball will be key in Game 3.
Kobe Bryant was Tatum’s idol growing up and he always makes sure to represent the late NBA great at any given opportunity. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami, he rocked a No 24 purple armband as the Celtics beat the Heat to get to the biggest stage of all. Ahead of Game 2, he turned up wearing a jacket which honoured both Kobe and Michael Jordan. Mamba remains the main person he looks to for inspiration though, even watching clips of his prior to being crowned the inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP.
“And I think get some more movement on offense, we got a little stagnant there. I think having practice today, get ready for shootaround tomorrow, watching film, we’ll be ready for the game.” “Last game, we turned the ball over a little too much,” he said. “So, I think that’s a point of emphasis, that we’ve got to just be better at controlling the ball.
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