Jayson Tatum may have grown up in St Louis, but there is no doubt he is Boston through and through.
Since Tatum was taken with the third pick in 2017 NBA Draft, Boston has become his home with the Celtics fanbase embracing him from the get-go and never letting go of their love for the superstar forward.
In his rookie season, Tatum showcased the kind of potential he had with a dunk on LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals that still echoes to this day.
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 on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event, from 1.45am overnight.
Speaking exclusively to Sky SportsTatum 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.
“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.
“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 to 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, collectively faltered 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 maximizes his ability to do both in Game 3?
“Just don’t 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.
“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.
“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.”
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 honored 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.
In terms of someone to inspire you to greatness and to go on and help drive your team to a championship, Tatum probably couldn’t have picked a more apt idol.
“Everybody knows how much he meant to me, how much he meant to the world, how much he meant to the game of basketball,” Tatum said. “He was my inspiration. He was my favorite player. He’s the reason why I fell in love with basketball.
“I just think his mindset, how hard he worked. He always wanted to be the best player. He knew that from a very young age, and he did whatever it took and that’s something I’ve always admired and appreciated. Just the way he went about working out, preparing, being the best by any means.
“I’ve seen all his finals, games and highlights and interviews and things like that. Along with him and other great players I’ve always looked up to, just trying to steal a little piece of their mentality from their game and try to implement into mine as I’m going through this journey.”
If the Celtics are to rebound when the series shifts to Boston for Game 3 on Wednesday night, they will need some of Tatum’s supporting cast to play much more like they did in Game 1 than they did in Game 2 on Sunday.
Al Horford didn’t even take a shot in the first half after leading the Celtics with 26 points in the opener and finished with two points. Derrick White missed 9 of 13 shots and was held to 12 points, Marcus Smart was just 1-of-6 from the field. Jaylen Brown made his first three shots and scored 13 points in the first quarter but went 1 for 11 the rest of the way, failing to support Tatum.
Rather than read too much into those things though, Tatum is choosing instead to focus on himself and what he can do to lead the team to success while also reflecting on how far he has come personally to get to this point. He is thankful for the opportunity.
“It’s hard to process it all right now,” Tatum added. “Obviously, I know I’m in the finals and every time I see the trophy, or if I walk in here (the arena), it kind of hits me. But at the same time, I’m just trying to prepare for the next game. [can’t] get caught up in the moment too much.
“It’s a balance. Obviously, just knowing my journey where I’m from, and to be here, it’s a blessing. It’s a dream come true. Like I’m from St. Louis, I’m in the finals, it doesn’t ‘t get any better than that.”
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