Stevens Says of Tatum: 'This Guy Gave Us Everything He Had'
As Brad Stevens was saying his offseason goodbyes this past week, he left Jayson Tatum with seven words of advice.
“I just told him, ‘Go on vacation. Go get some rest,’” the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations said with a proud smile Tuesday morning during a teleconference call with the media. “’This guy gave us everything he had.”
As simple of a message as it was, Tatum needed to hear those words. Everyone needed to hear those words because, in the wake of an NBA Finals loss, it’s easy to get caught up in the raw disappointment and forget about the journey that led Celtics Nation to this point.
It was Tatum who spearheaded that journey for the Celtics. He put his heart and soul into this season in search of Banner 18 and, although he and the Celtics came up two wins short of their goal, there is no one who deserves some offseason R&R more than him.
Tatum has known nothing but basketball over the past year, as he went nearly 12 months without taking a break. He started Olympics training camp with Team USA on July 6, 2021, and basically didn’t put down the basketball until June 16, 2022, after Game 6 of the Finals.
Throughout that time, Tatum played in 112 games while logging 4,008 minutes, both of which were easily league-high marks.
“When you look at the minutes, when you look at the games played, I've said this many times, he's a superstar that doesn't want to sit,” said Stevens. “He wants to play; he wants to play all the time.”
For most of that time, Tatum played at a superstar level. He earned an Olympic gold medal, his third All-Star appearance, his first All-NBA First Team nod, and the Larry Bird Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy.
Unfortunately, his level of play dipped below his typical standards during the Finals, as he averaged 21.5 points per game while shooting 36.7 percent from the field. But in analyzing those numbers, what must be taken into account is the load that he carried up to that point along with the quality of defense he had to face every game against the Warriors.
“In the Finals, obviously, I think he would be the first to say that he would like to have some of those moments back,” said Stevens. “But I thought there were other contributing factors to how he played but – we had several guys that really struggled in the Finals. I thought [Golden State's] defense was excellent. I thought our offense got stagnant and the challenge of the long year adds up. But that's part of the learning experience about getting to the point where you have a great idea about what it takes to get all the way through.”
This was the first time that Tatum has gotten a taste of what it takes to make it to the Finals, and now he understands how difficult it is to win it all.
“It's hard getting to this point,” Tatum said after Game 6. “It's even harder getting over it, the hump, and winning it. It's been a long journey, a long process.”
However long and difficult the process has been, it should only help in terms of preparing for the future. Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the only pair of teammates in NBA history to play in at least 70 playoff games apiece at age 25 and under, so by the time they reach their prime, they’ll have had more than enough experience to finally get over the hump.
“We’re all subjective in every moment and react emotionally,” said Stevens, “but when you start looking at it objectively and more so historically, what Jayson and Jaylen have done in the playoffs, historically, at their ages, is rarified air.”
Tatum placed himself in rarified air in several different ways throughout the postseason. He became just the second player in team history to score at least 600 points in a single postseason run, finishing just 17 points shy of Larry Bird’s record of 632 in 1983-84. He also became the third player in league history to total at least 600 points, 150 rebounds, and 125 assists in a single postseason, joining Bird and LeBron James.
As Stevens pointed out, even though Tatum didn’t play as well as he would have liked in the Finals, “there's no chance we're there without him and without all of his great play all the way through.”
Not many 24-year-olds are asked to shoulder such a heavy burden of responsibility at the beginning of their respective careers, and even fewer are able to remain standing under such pressure. That’s what makes Tatum’s perennial improvement as a player and as a leader so impressive, and he’s just getting started.
Surely, he’d like to get started right back up again to get the sour taste of defeat out of his mouth, but for now, it’s time for a break. As Stevens advised, “Go get some rest.”
He deserves it.