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Did Jayson Tatum Re-Define His Legacy In Game 5 Of The NBA Finals?

Jayson Tatum walked into TD Garden on June 17th, 2024, like he had so many times before during his seven-year NBA lifespan.


However, this wasn’t just any other run-of-the-mill game; it carried more weight than any regular season or playoff game he had played in his career until that night. It was an opportunity for Jayson Tatum to officially put his name in the history books alongside his teammates as an NBA champion, something that could never be taken away.


For two years since his subpar performance in the 2022 NBA Finals, Jayson Tatum had to hear that he wasn’t that guy despite leading his team in almost every statistical category, that he didn’t have the “it” factor needed to lead his team to a title, and that he didn’t come up in the biggest moments when his team needed him.


Now while many of the statements made about this young superstar were already getting excessive before he hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy, Tatum responded to the criticism in the only way he knows how. By leading his team to a win, doing whatever it takes. And what a gem of a game he had to clinch the series inside TD Garden in front of the Boston faithful.


Tatum came out of the gates in Game 5 looking to make plays, whether that be scoring or finding an open teammate. He had his best first half of playoffs scoring-wise with 16 points at the break. He also quietly dished out 9 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds as Boston held a 67-46 halftime lead over Dallas.


This may not have been Tatum’s most dominant game ever and it definitely wasn’t his biggest offensive explosion in the playoffs. 46 points on the road in Milwaukee trailing 3-2 in the series to the Bucks two years ago was a game Tatum simply decided they weren’t losing. His 51 points against Philly last season were the most ever scored in a game seven and came on a night where he was a flamethrower from three-point range. He also scored 50 in a playoff win against the Nets in 2021 while Jaylen Brown was injured and led the Celtics to a win in the play-in tournament with 50 points over the Wizards in the same year as well.


Tatum can provide problems for opposing teams’ defenses in a myriad of ways and the series-clinching win was just another example of the evolution of his game on the world’s biggest stage. He became the first Celtic in franchise history to have a Finals game with 30+ points and 10+ assists. Instead of relying heavily on his jumper which hadn’t been consistent throughout the Finals, Tatum had three key drives to the rim in the 4th quarter to help the Celtics make those last few plays down the stretch towards Banner 18.

This may have been the most complete version of Jayson Tatum we have seen because he knows how many options he has at his disposal to make the right play. He will always be primarily viewed as a scorer, and for good reason, but it would not have been possible for the Celtics to achieve what they have if Tatum wasn’t able to be the all-around player that he has shown he is.

Game 5 might have been the best game he has played not just because of his counting stats, but because he made the key plays to help him, and his teammates win the game. He would have given anything his team needed to leave the court with the Larry O'Brien trophy that night.

"The most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I'd made my teammates play.” – Bill Russell


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