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Mature Jayson Tatum shows he doesn't need to score to help Boston Celtics win games

Celtics made "winning plays" in Game 2 of NBA Finals and are two wins from a title
Celtics made "winning plays" in Game 2 of NBA Finals and are two wins from a title 01:31

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have been all about sacrifice throughout the season, with star players putting their personal stats and accolades aside to reach the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Why would that change now in the NBA Finals?

The hardest part of that mindset is to actually follow through, but the Celtics have made that look easy. The perfect example is star forward Jayson Tatum, who has not been forcing his offense against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. The Mavs have employed a "stop Tatum from scoring at all costs" defense, sending two or three bodies his way whenever he touches the basketball.

Tatum isn't taking the bait and forcing shots in hopes of keeping up with Luka Doncic's scoring on the other side. He also didn't take the bait when Dallas head coach Jason Kidd tried to troll Tatum and Jaylen Brown, saying the latter is Boston's best player this series. Because Boston's best player changes by the game, by the quarter, and oftentimes, by the possession, and in the end, it doesn't matter who is atop the hierarchy as long as the team walks off the floor with a win

There's no denying that Tatum's shot has been off through the first two games of the NBA Finals. He's hit just four of his 14 three-point attempts, and only 12 of his 38 shots overall. Having four to six arms trying to knock the ball out or block your shot will do that to any player.

But Tatum is thriving in just about every other aspect of his game, especially as a facilitator. He's taking full advantage of all that defensive attention and finding his open teammates for easy buckets. On five different occasions on Sunday night, he found a cutting Jrue Holiday for an easy bucket at the rim, as the C's guard led the way with 26 points in the Game 2 win.

Tatum gave out 12 assists in Game 2, and just missed a triple-double in Boston's 105-98 victory with 18 points and nine rebounds. While some may see Tatum's point total and figure he's having a disappointing Finals, that is not the case, with his passing (and rebounding and defense) making up for his lack of scoring.

"The way their defense is set up and how much they're loading up and converging at the rim, it just puts us in positions to attack and find the easy kickout reads and just to keep the ball popping and things like that so we can get good to great shots on each and every possession," Tatum said after Game 2. "I mean, every time I'd take a couple dribbles, there was, like, three people were right there. So we got a bunch of shooters on our team and guys that can space the floor. They kept leaving Jrue open. So it wasn't like I had to do anything spectacular. It was just about finding the open guy."

It shows another level of maturity from the 26-year-old, who in past years likely would have been forcing more shots against the sea of Dallas defenders. But that is not who Tatum is anymore. 

Losing in the NBA Finals two years ago played a major role in Tatum's evolution as an all-around player.

"It has a lot to do with that I've been here before and we didn't win, and it's just like, you know, we're so close to what we're trying to accomplish, why would I let my ego or my need to score all the points gets in the way of that," said Tatum. "There are going to be times where I need to score, and obviously, I need to shoot better. Golly. But you know, really, we always talk about do whatever it takes for however long it takes. If I need to have 16 potential assists every single night and that's what puts us in the best position to win and it doesn't mean I'm the leading scorer, by all means, if that gives us the best chance to win, sign me up."

The Mavericks are doing their part to take Jayson Tatum's scoring out of the NBA Finals, but they are failing miserably at keeping him from impacting the game in other ways. His overall growth earned the praise of head coach Joe Mazzulla, who was quick to point out that everyone on the Celtics takes that unselfish approach on the court.

"Jayson makes greatness look easy. He does it in a lot of different ways. He does it on defense, he does it on rebounding, he does it on passing, he does it on screening. He's a tremendous player and not hard to coach him. When he has the ability to affect the game in different ways, we're a different team," said Mazzulla. "But it takes everybody to do it. 

"The emphasis and where [Tatum has] grown over the last two years is to take what the defenses give him and learn to impact the game in many different ways. Because of the type of team that we've had, especially this year, he's seen a bunch of different coverages and he's seen different matchups because teams have to match up with him," added Mazzulla. "So coming into a game, it's kind of similar to a puzzle and he's done a great job learning how to solve the puzzle and do different things."

Tatum is an unselfish superstar on a team littered with unselfish stars. There are no hockey assists in the NBA, since this is basketball and not hockey, but the Celtics would have plenty of those if they were recorded. Boston had 29 assists on 38 made baskets in Game 2. 

The Celtics were excellent at drawing attention on a drive to the hoop and then kicking out to an open shooter. It's their bread and butter, but the Mavericks are still taking the bait. 

Jaylen Brown also saw his share of defensive attention on Sunday, and distributed seven assists to go with his 21 points. 

"That's just being patient," said Brown. "You got a lot of energy, excitedness, nerves, when the game starts, but sometimes you just got to be patient. And I got to the paint pretty much whenever I wanted, and I could be patient when I get there. I had a few turnovers where I had a little bit more time to wait for the defender to make a choice, because those two-on-one reads are there, where you get to the paint, the defender is, the big is coming, you either kick it to the corner or if he drives down to the corner you kick it to the wing. But don't got to be in a rush. Just protect the ball, make the great decisions and trust your teammates. I think that's what the majority of this is. We did that enough tonight, but I think we need to do it a little more going into Dallas."

The Celtics got back to the Finals because they share the ball better than anyone else in the league. It's something they've prided themselves on all year, and it now has them two wins away from a title.

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