JAYSON TATUMS NBA FINALS Debut didn’t go as planned.
Not only did the Boston Celtics fall in six games to the Golden State Warriors last season as Stephen Curry and the Warriors won a fourth championship in their last eight years at TD Garden, but Tatum also saw massive dips in his offensive numbers during his playoff season. Minutes piled up.
Tatum averaged 36.7% across the six games — 30.7% from 3-point range — with nearly five turnovers per contest in Boston’s four losses.
After not earning a ring, Boston’s 23-year-old star forward decided during the offseason that some things would change.
He changed his diet. He upped his weightlifting routine. He devoted his training to the rigors of postseason basketball. All to ensure Tatum doesn’t run out of gas at the end of 82 regular-season games and more than two months of high-level, high-intensity playoff competition.
“I’ve been very persistent this past season and throughout my career,” Tatum said during All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, where he was named All-Star Game MVP.
“But I feel like the changes we made this offseason prepared me to play tough minutes, so it won’t be a shock if we get to the playoffs. It’s just kind of a gradual build-up.”
The result? Tatum has maintained his efficiency while clocking the second-most minutes per game in the NBA: 37.3, just 0.2 behind Toronto Raptors All-Star Pascal Siakam.
And as the Celtics (44-18) take on the Cleveland Cavaliers (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) on Wednesday, they do so with Tatum playing at the MVP level on course to become the first Celtic to averaging at least 30 points per game over an entire season.
Tatum is also following in the footsteps of other stars – from LeBron James to Kevin Durant to Giannis Antetokounmpo – who throughout their careers have mastered controlling their bodies to perform at their best when it counts.
“[Tatum is] very detailed,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. “He doesn’t waste any time. He made a conscious choice and invested in his body in terms of weight lifting, sleep, breathing and nutrition. So everything he does now is aimed at doing his best there. …
“I think some of that just comes with time. Some of it comes easy when you learn how to do it.”
TATUMS FINALS could be seen as a by-product of a grueling regular season and postseason. The truth, however, was that not only did Tatum play heavy minutes in the 2021-22 season, but the grind was hot on the heels of arguably the busiest stretch an NBA player has had in the past three years.
Tatum went straight into the start of the 2020-21 season in late December from the Eastern Conference Finals in the Orlando bubble of the NBA in summer and fall 2020. He spent the summer of 2021 helping Team USA win gold at the Tokyo Olympics, then marched all the way to the end of June last season during a final that featured seven straight series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat gave.
And since the start of the 2020 NBA playoffs, Tatum leads the NBA in games played (244) and minutes (9,045).
“His legs were gone,” Drew Hanlen, Tatum’s longtime coach, told ESPN. “We tried to look at it from the perspective of ‘What can we do to prevent this?’ consider.”
Hanlen, Tatum and his personal strength coach, Nick Sang, came up with a comprehensive offseason plan. First came Tatum’s nutrition plan. Rather than avoiding certain foods, it was instead designed to help achieve specific goals.
“Everything is just healthier options,” Tatum said. “Not like a vegan or anything. But whether it’s eggs, [eating] Organic eggs or the meat I eat and [the time and] what to eat after games or what to eat before games. Just kind of being on time with things like that, and I’ve noticed the difference.”
Hanlen added, “Before, every year was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to eat less bad food and more good food.’ This is the first time he [said]’Here’s my plan.'”
Tatum also fine-tuned his training, including diligent weightlifting sessions with Sang after games. The same was true of his summer workouts with Hanlen, which not only focused on improving skills – finishing inside became a focus after seeing how physical things had turned out during the 2022 playoffs – but also faster workouts that should force Tatum to play through exhaustion.
And across the country, if Tatum needed tips on how to maximize his level of play late in the season, he could look to his rival in Los Angeles, as no player in league history has held up better throughout his career than James.
Now in his 20th NBA season, the league’s all-time leading scorer has been the picture of consistency for a generation. Despite some nagging injuries in recent seasons, he’s still averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists at the age of 38.
“My secret? Well, I’ll tell you my secret, [but] it wouldn’t be a secret anymore,” James said during the All-Star Weekend.
“But I would say I just dedicate myself to the game. I’ve never cheated on the game. There’s a saying in sports called ‘game gods’ and if you cheat the game gods or short cut the game gods, karma gets involved and they will find a way to get you back.
“I learned that at a very young age. I have never cheated the process of how great I can be or how to maximize my potential.”
LOOK INTO ALL After the game in the NBA locker room, two types of players will emerge: the guy with his rookie deal bouncing around with endless energy, and the veteran loaded with ice cream trying to stay ready for the next game.
“They just know about the cooldown and how long it lasts after the game,” LA Clippers star Paul George said during All-Star Weekend. “Freezing, getting treatment… when you’re young you don’t think about it like that after a game – straight in the shower, you’re out of there.
“But as I’ve gotten older, I put the emphasis on doing my post-game checklist for everything [to get] Until the next day.”
This checklist is getting longer, especially for players like Tatum, James or Antetokounmpo, who not only expect to play until the end of June every year, but also carry the burden of leading their teams there.
From that perspective, there is perhaps no one with a tougher task than Antetokounmpo, who spends much of his time on the court using his unique combination of size and speed to inflict a punch on his opponents – one that ends up leading to a natural pounding on Antetokounmpo’s own body.
Sitting surrounded by reporters at All-Star Weekend, Antetokounmpo was nursing his own injury, a right wrist sprain he sustained a few days earlier when he hit the brace in a win against the Chicago Bulls.
Antetokounmpo cited James as an example of the costs – from time to money to mental willpower – it takes to consistently remain ready to play at this level.
“I’ve heard many times that LeBron spends a million dollars a year on his body,” Antetokounmpo said. “You have to invest in your body. We are a company. Some players here make more money than the top 500 companies in the world. …
“The best investment you can make is yourself. It’s your body. So the more you invest in your body, the more durable it is, the more you can perform at a high level.”
HAVE TATUM’S LOG has been a recurring theme with the Celtics this season. But Mazzulla, who constantly monitors Tatum’s workload, said those conversations focused on the wrong things.
“We spend too much time talking about how many minutes he plays instead of how he takes responsibility for being a great player and he doesn’t want to sit out games,” Mazzulla said.
“Yes, he’s made major adjustments in terms of his mental approach, his diet, his exercise, his weightlifting … investments in his life that have helped him embrace that responsibility.”
Tatum’s game-winning 3 was almost beaten by Embiid’s throw on the buzzer
Jayson Tatum sinks a go-ahead 3 pointer in the dying seconds while Joel Embiid throws up a prayer that connects just after time runs out and the Celtics are victorious.
What’s even more important for both Tatum and the Celtics is the final leap forward in the playoffs. Essentially from the moment the Celtics lost to Golden State last spring, players up and down the roster — led by Tatum and fellow All-Star Jaylen Brown — have been vocal about not settling on a trip to the to settle for the finale.
Boston wants to go back there again. And the process of achieving that goal began last summer, accompanied by Tatum’s quest to be ready for Game 102, not just Game 82.
It was only after the disappointment of last year’s final that Tatum realized what the likes of Antetokounmpo and James have known for years. And he spent the summer making sure things would be different for this year’s playoffs.
“We have an opportunity to do something special for a short time and you want to take every opportunity that you have,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart told ESPN. “That just shows the growth and maturity and who [Tatum] Is.
“When you’re that close, it’s not the big steps that count. It’s the small steps, those small movements that you have to work on that will get you over the top.”
www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/35755546/what-nba-finals-runs-lebron-giannis-teach-jayson-tatum What NBA Finals runs from LeBron, Giannis can teach Jayson Tatum