Jayson Tatum has cracked the code for a true NBA superstar

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Jayson Tatum (right) and Marcus Smart take flight after a job well done. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Should this Celtics team fulfill all attainable possibilities, what Grant Williams achieved on Sunday will forever be celebrated.

Maybe, like Scott Wedman’s 11-of-11 shooting performance in Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals or Kelly Olynyk’s 26-point jewel in Game 7 of the 2017 Conference Semifinals, it will be anyway.

Williams hit 7 of 18-18! – 3-point attempts, scored a career-high 27 points and played the leading role as the Celtics dethroned the defending NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks with a 109-81 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

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But let’s not forget why it was possible: Because Jayson Tatum’s poise, his style of play, and his sheer presence allow his teammates to thrive.

Oh, you better believe it now: Tatum has cracked the code for a true NBA superstar.

It’s well-documented how the strides Tatum made in improving the players circling him were instrumental in the Celtics’ mid-season turnaround. This progress was confirmed beyond a doubt under tense circumstances on Sunday afternoon.

It could have been so tempting for Tatum to start looking for his own offense at the expense of others early in Game 7. After all, he was coming off a 46-point tour de force from jump-on-my-back-boys in Game 6 in Milwaukee, and he was there in the first quarter, hitting all three of his 3-point attempts while many of his teammates were cool.

Tatum, who didn’t get his first shot (a crazy 3) until midway through the first quarter, and Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 5 of 10 in the first frame; The rest of her teammates were 2 of 14, with Williams and Payton Pritchard 3 being the only other buckets. The Celtics were 26-20 behind and they were lucky to be so close.

The Bucks weren’t just betting on the Celtics’ secondary players missing shots. They were counting on Tatum to lose faith in them. But there was never any indication that anything like that happened. In a sequence early in the second quarter he appeared to be going head-to-head with Giannis Antetokounmpo only to find Williams driving for an open layup, an easy 2 points that seemed to boost his confidence.

Williams was the biggest beneficiary of Tatum’s disciplined play. The Bucks gushed over Tatum, grabbed the paint and challenged the Celtics’ wingers — particularly Williams, whose eyes were almost always wide open — to beat them with his shooting. And he did after his slow start. (He made 2 of his first 7 3-point attempts.)

Williams wasn’t the only Celtics role player to grab the spotlight. Expertly used as another scoring threat by coach Ime Udoka and his staff on a night when Marcus Smart and Derrick White combined scored 3 of 19 tries, Payton Pritchard scored 14 points in 17 minutes in a 5-of-7 Shot.

Tatum might have been at his best early in the third quarter when the Celtics started shaking the champions. He hit an early 3, drove and kicked to Brown (19 points) for a 3 that increased the lead to 59-47, then after a Bucks timeout found Brown again with a deft lob for one of his eight assists.

There was an anxious stretch as Tatum picked up his fourth foul with 7 minutes and 38 seconds in the third quarter. But the Celtics held strong while he sat out the rest of the quarter, outplaying the Bucks 13-11 in his absence.

Tatum returned in the fourth to officially and efficiently end the Bucks’ reign. The Celtics systematically retreated from a gassed Bucks team. He finished with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, hit 5 of 9 3-pointers, grabbed 6 rebounds to go with the aforementioned 8 assists, and — oh yeah, that’s probably the what Udoka might have mentioned first – played a major part in keeping the Bucks at 36.7 percent shooting on 81 points.

If that feels like more than a regular second-round playoff series win, that’s because it is. The Celtics defeated the defending champions, a tough, admirable team, and that was largely because Tatum outplayed two-time Most Valuable Player and ridiculous force of nature Antetokounmpo (25 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists, but zero effectiveness in the second half), as the stakes were highest.

The Celtics now take on the top seeded Heat in the East Final and Miami shouldn’t be underestimated. But it also needs to be said: Of her four trips to Conference Finals since 2017, this is it by far the best chance for the Celtics to advance to the finals and collect the 18th banner.

You have the talent. You have the determination. And if Tatum — dispatcher to Kevin Durant in the first round, now dispatcher to Giannis — continues like this, they have the most complete player left in the playoffs.

Funny how this all plays out. The Celtics, now so far from that miserable first half of the season, have a very real chance of becoming champions. And perhaps the most important reason is that Jayson Tatum became a true Celtics hero when he stopped constantly trying to be one.

https://www.boston.com/sports/commentary/2022/05/15/jayson-tatum-makes-his-celtics-teammates-better-and-that-is-why-he-has-cracked-the-code-for-true-nba-superstardom/ Jayson Tatum has cracked the code for a true NBA superstar

Matthew Hallett

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