Tatum’s scoring output was an N.B.A. record for a Game 7, and it helped send the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals, where they will face the Miami Heat.
“They want the superstars to be superstars, but they want you to earn it,” Smart mentioned. “You gotta go play, you gotta go take it, they’re not going to give it to you. That’s just what I want him to continue to have in mind. When he gets down, when he’s not making shots, when calls aren’t going his way, it’s a game of ups and downs. You had a down moment, ups are coming. Stay with it.”
Added Tatum: “We have a saying it’s only up from here.”
Tatum was at all-time low. Smart carried the crew in Game 6 after which Tatum confirmed up once they wanted him most. This time, it was all on Tatum.
“I just told him, ‘About time,’ ” Smart instructed The Athletic. “I said, ‘Listen, I’m too tired to go again. Bruh, you gotta do this one tonight.’ But nah, it was great. I was just ecstatic for him. I was so happy to see him smile, to finally get that monkey off his back.”
Jaylen Brown talked about all through the sequence that this was a sport of chess. Tatum and Brown’s evolution has been to acknowledge their scoring is the queen, however they should use all the board to get to checkmate.
So that’s why Tatum has taken a lot satisfaction in beating totally different coverages together with his passing, making these cross-court contests on the defensive finish and controlling the tempo in transition. Asked after the sport about Tatum’s development as an issue solver, his coach latched onto that phrase.
“I mean, that’s the word, he’s learned how to problem solve,” Mazzulla mentioned. “So he can recognize matchups, coverages, he can anticipate the next coverage, he can see the spacing. He can put guys where they are and make the right play, so that to me is the evolution of players is can they problem solve over and over again, and he’s done that.”
Tatum’s father has seen the progress not simply from his time within the NBA, however to the day he first picked up a ball. He thought again to earlier than Tatum was a family identify. It was simply Jayson, the ball and his teammates. But in actuality, it was simply Jayson versus himself.
“Now he knows how to funnel through it,” Justin Tatum mentioned. “Back then he would just pout and now he’s put everything together. I could just see when he was one-for-God-knows-what the other night, you could see in his face he was still even-keeled, knowing he was telling himself to find a way to get through it.”
That’s what his coach likes essentially the most about him. It’s the consistency of being who he’s and making an affect, no matter whether or not his shot is falling. After the Game 5 loss, Tatum sounded shockingly calm.
He performs it cool, however there’s emotion effervescent underneath the floor that comes out when he hits one other stepback 3 or crosses up Embiid to throw it down. It’s that emotion he makes use of to gasoline the hearth.
“People talk about him as a player, but the person, who he is, is a reflection of how he plays,” Mazzulla mentioned. “He’s very even-keeled. He has a trust and a loyalty and a character about him. When you play like that and live like that, I think it works out for him. So you see it in his game. I’m not surprised by it at all. He’ll have the humility to keep going, which I think is key.”
“At the end of the day, this is basketball. This is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid, something that I love to do and just go out there and relax and have fun,” Tatum mentioned. “And when you go out there and relax and kind of think about those days when you were a kid at the YMCA or whatever, the game kind of opens up. Just try not to think about the pressure and what everybody’s going to say. Just focus on the game and have fun. I think that’s when I’m essentially at my best.”
It all begins in that fitness center alongside Embiid. In the summer season, Embiid is available in early to observe Tatum work out. Tatum stays late so he can do the identical.
They knew the Eastern Conference runs by way of them — at the least when the Milwaukee Bucks collapsed — however they didn’t need to disguise from one another and shield their secrets and techniques. They needed to be able to take one another down on the largest stage, realizing the whole lot about one another and having to show their greatness.
“There’s just such a mutual respect,” Hanlen mentioned. “If Joel won an MVP and then beat Jayson in the postseason, Jayson wouldn’t have been able to live with the trash talk all summer. Now it’s going to be a split decision. Tonight was fun. It was fun for (Tatum). I just wish it wasn’t against f—ing Joel.”
But Tatum is aware of what it’s all about. The MVP could be good. But when you make the NBA Finals, nothing else issues.
(Top picture: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)