The Boston Celtics will face the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals. Led by budding star Jayson Tatum, his sidekick Jaylen Brown, and first-year coach Ime Udoka, the “Leprechauns” are in search of title No. 18 and breaking the championship tie with the archrival Lakers.
When the season began few believed the Celtics would be in this position. But when 2022 struck, the team hit a switch that has yet to be turned off.
The maturation of Tatum as a leader and his buying into Udoka’s vision is a huge reason why the C’s are in position to win their first Larry O’Brien trophy in 14 years.
The play of 24-year-old Tatum will go a long way in determining if that happens. Celtics legend Paul Pierce likes what he’s seen from Tatum and he likens the former Duke product to himself as a player.
In an interview with Hoop Genius podcast, Pierce said, “He’s very smooth. He has great footwork, and his basketball IQ is off the charts. You know …. he can do it all pretty much offensively, and that’s some of the traits I had. I had no offensive weaknesses.”
Pierce continued to toot his own horn while also praising Tatum.
“I mean the way he can get to the hole, the way he can knock down the three, the midrange, get to the basket, and I think that’s something he’s improved on in the last couple years. … His ability to get to the basket and finish with contact, that’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen from him.”
Pierce was a lethal three-level scorer who was adept at getting to the rim and finishing through contact as well. Tatum is the more athletic of the two, while Pierce was much more fluid.
It’s all about 18 ☘️ pic.twitter.com/SAzFNFEJG3
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 30, 2022
Tatum Takes Better Shots Now, Became A Better Playmaker
Known as a scorer, Tatum’s ability as a playmaker has gotten better each season of his five-year career. Tatum talked about his development as a playmaker following Boston’s series-shifting Game 5 win at Miami.
“We won more games than last year, but I think playmaking, just being able to read the game a lot better slowed it down for me in a lot of ways, and I think it’s shown.”
Congratulations to the #EasternConferenceFinals champions @celtics & to #JasonTatum for receiving the 1st ever LarryBird #ECFmvp award. Maybe soon the #BillRussellFinalsMVP award #BleedGreen @NBA @espn pic.twitter.com/yIaZjfIZxa
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) May 30, 2022
The recent first-team All-NBA selection averaged a career-high 4.5 assists per game during the regular season. That number has jumped to 5.8 during the playoffs.
2022 Celtics Became Great Defensively Once Tatum Bought In
When the Celtics hired Ime Udoka he brought a defensive mentality and wanted his defense on a string. That meant Tatum had to buy in. Blessed with a 6-foot-9 frame, long arms and superb athleticism, there was no reason why he shouldn’t be a better defender. It took some buying into, but once he did the Celtics became the best defensive team in the league. That same sentiment could be said for Paul Pierce and the 2008 Celtics under Doc Rivers.
NBA legend Kevin Garnett, one of the best and most versatile defenders the league has ever seen, pushed his teammates to play with high-level intensity on the defensive end of the court. That meant Pierce had to put forth more effort defensively, something that wasn’t asked of him prior to KG arriving. Pierce obliged and locked in defensively during the team’s 2008 title run. This Celtics team doesn’t have a KG anchoring things, but they defend as a team and are tough.
Tatum has become a more complete player, and because of this the Celtics are in the NBA Finals with a great chance to win it all.