Jason Tatum may have grown up in St. Louis, but there’s no doubt he’s been Boston all along.
Since Tatum was named 3rd pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Boston has become his home with the Celtics fan base embracing him from the start and their love for the attacking star has never left.
In his rookie season, Tatum displayed the kind of potential he had with dunking LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals that still resonates to this day.
Since then, Celtics fans have always believed that this moment would come and that Tatum could deliver. Now, on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old will lead a team to TD Garden in pursuit of winning the NBA Finals game when his team faces the Golden State Warriors, Broadcast live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event, from 1.45 am to next morning.
speaks exclusively to Sky SportsTatum told us how important it is to form the part of the team that leads to the championship’s 18th flag being hoisted into the rafters.
“That means 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 I worked for. For a chance to do that, and I hope, you know, raise one, I’ll be the happiest man in the world.
“I’m excited, though, for my first game of the Finals at home in Boston. You know, they’ve been fantastic all season, all playoffs. So I can only imagine what it’s going to be like, and how exciting it will be. It’s going to be great so I can’t wait for game three. .”
The Celtics managed to split their opening games on the road in Golden State, which makes for an interesting read of how they’re going.
Boston took the first game one night firing Tatum 3 for just 17 from the field. However, he added to his final tally of 12 points with 13 assists and only two turnovers.
In Game 2, his teammates, who bore the brunt of scoring in his absence in the series’ opening game, stumbled collectively in terms of kickbacks, shooting just 37.5 percent overall and struggling to make anything inside the 3-point streak. Although Tatum himself scored 28 points, the Celtics lost 107-88 points.
It may have been difficult, until now, to find a balance between being a leading scorer and a primary facilitator against Golden State – so what is the key to ensuring that he can increase 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 to do whatever it takes to win. Any night, it could be something different, right? It’s just basketball, not so much pressure. Get out there, have fun and play the right way.” And always take care of her.
“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 we win.”
The Celtics only made five turnovers and four baskets during the crucial third quarter in Game Two, leaving them with an insurmountable 23-point deficit, and Tatum admits that looking after the ball will be key in Game 3.
“In the last game, we turned the ball a little bit too much,” he said. “So, I think that’s a point of focus, we have to be better at controlling the ball.
“And I think to have more movement in attack, we got a little stagnant there. I think after training today, getting ready to shoot tomorrow, and watching the movie, we’ll be ready for the match.”
Kobe Bryant was a Tatum star who grew up making sure to represent the great late NBA player at any given opportunity. In Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami, he shook the 24th purple badge as the Celtics beat the Heat to reach the biggest stage ever. Before the second match, he appeared wearing a jacket in honor of both Kobe and Michael Jordan.
Mamba is still the main person he looks to for inspiration, even watching clips of him before being crowned in the inaugural Eastern Conference Finals MVP.
In terms of someone who inspires you to greatness and to move forward and help lead your team to the championship, perhaps Tatum would not have chosen a more suitable idol.
“Everyone knows how much he meant to me, how much he meant to the world, and how much he meant to the basketball game,” Tatum said. “He was my inspiration. He was my favorite player. That’s why I fell in love with basketball.
“I think it’s just the way he thinks, and how hard he works. He always wanted to be the best player. He knew that from a young age, did whatever it took, and that’s something I’ve always admired and appreciated. Just the way he went to work, to prepare, to be the best in any way. Anyway.
“I’ve seen all his finals, games, highlights, interviews and things like that. Along with him and other great players I’ve always looked forward to, just trying to steal a little bit of their mentality into their game and trying to apply it in my work while I’m on this journey.”
If the Celtics are to bounce back when the series moves to Boston for Game 3 on Wednesday night, they’ll need some Tatum’s supporting cast to play more than they did in Game 1 than they did in Game 2 on Sunday.
Al Horford didn’t even hit the first half after leading the Celtics with 26 points in the opening game and finishing with two. Derek White missed 9 of 13 shots and held 12 points, Marcus Smart was only 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 reading too much into these things, Tatum chooses instead to focus on himself and what he can do to lead the team to success while also considering how far he’s come personally to get to this point. He is grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s hard to process everything now,” Tatum added. “Obviously I know I’m in the finals and every time I see the cup, or if I go in here (the arena), it kind of hits me. But at the same time, I’m just trying to prepare for the next game and I [can’t] You occupy the moment a lot.
“It’s a balance. Obviously, just knowing my journey where I come from, and being here, it’s a blessing. It’s a dream come true. Like me I’m from St. Louis, I’m in the finals, I wouldn’t get any better than that.”
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