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Jayson Tatum on Opening Night: “Honestly, It’s like the first day of school”

Jayson Tatum was interviewed at Celtics practice the day before Boston kicks off their season against Philadelphia.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We’re less than 24 hours from Opening Night, and Celtics star Jayson Tatum is itching to get out on the court. During an interview at Celtics practice, the young forward joked about how he was feeling leading into tomorrow’s home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.

“Honestly, It’s like the first day of school, you know? I got my outfit laid out” said Tatum with a smile. “I’m just excited. Time flies, it’s already my sixth year (in the league), so just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy it. Because it’s like a dream come true, I get to play basketball for a living. I’m just ready to get back out there.”

When asked if he still got butterflies going into the season, Tatum said “Butterflies? Nah, not anymore. I’m anxious, I’m excited. I’m not nervous.” It’s so easy to forget how seasoned this young Boston roster is, especially Tatum, with so many years of NBA experience under his belt before age 25. After a deep Finals run, the Boston Celtics seem poised to have another strong season with stars Tatum and Brown leading the charge.

On where the Celtics are at right now, Tatum said “I feel good. I think we had a really successful training camp. Obviously, we wish we had Gallo and Rob, but with the group we’ve had, I love the way we played in those four preseason games. I love the way we practice. I think everyone is gelling well together, with the feel we have out there. It feels good.”

Boston’s Finals appearance against the Golden State Warriors served as a test for this young Celtics core, and while it didn’t end the way they wanted, it served as an important lesson. “I think I just have more experience,” said Tatum, “And learning from that deep playoff run, going to the Finals, there’s some benefit to that. I feel like I approached coming into this year differently than I did last season.”

With no Robert Williams for at least eight weeks to start the season, Boston has trotted out a much smaller lineup with Derrick White playing with the starters and Jayson Tatum slotting into power forward. While the team does lose a lot of their rebounding that Williams contributed, the Celtics have had stellar spacing and ball movement with another capable ballhandler on the floor.

“Essentially, I’m the tallest guy out there, and I think that plays to our strength, just playing fast,” said Tatum, “Anybody can get the rebound and push it, even Al, and we know that. So when a shot gets up, we get the rebound, nobody’s necessarily waiting in the backcourt to get the ball, we all push it ahead, we all can attack. We’ve just got a good feel for each other, we’ve been playing together for a while now. So just kind of knowing where to be, without necessarily having to call a play, especially after a miss. Just get the ball out and go.”

The Celtics will need to make a conscious effort and focus on boxing out and tracking down rebounds, especially with the smaller lineups they’ll run in Williams’ absence. “We just don’t have any room for error on that end, for leak-outs,” said Tatum, “When a shot goes up, everybody’s gotta attack the glass. Even if you’re boxing somebody out, you gotta do your job and somebody else has gotta grab the board, and just being aware of that... we’re not the tallest team without Rob right now, so everybody’s gotta get in there and get the rebound.”

During the Celtics preseason finale against the Raptors in Montreal, Tatum received two technical fouls and was tossed from the game with seconds to go in the third quarter. When asked what he took away from that situation, Tatum said “That was the first time I’ve ever gotten thrown out of any sporting event. The part that I was bothered by was that it was a preseason game in Montreal, and they don’t have an NBA team. There was a lot of Celtics jerseys, and there was a lot of guys with number zero on them that came to see me play. You don’t know the next time they’ll have that opportunity, so I think that was the most unfortunate part. But it was preseason, so I didn’t get fined any money, so I learned my lesson.” After being tossed, Tatum said he ended up going back to the locker room and got a workout in, which got some laughs from media members.

Tomorrow night, the Celtics will honor Bill Russell before the game, as well as wear new city edition jerseys that were designed with Russell prior to his passing. When asked about the team honoring Russell’s legacy in Boston as well as the NBA, Tatum said “I’m excited, and I’m glad that we’re doing that, especially throughout the NBA with everybody have number six on their jersey. Just honoring him, obviously how much he meant to the Celtics, the game of basketball, what he meant to this world. I’m honored to be a part of that tomorrow.”

About whether or not opening night would serve as a statement game for the Celtics, Tatum said “Obviously, you wanna win every game you play, but we’re not gonna overreact if we win or if we lose. We can learn from both, it’s only one game.”

When asked about if he used last year’s Finals loss as fuel, Tatum said “Use it as fuel? Yeah, we lost. It’s no secret, we talk about it, it felt like every day. So it’s kind of a relief to just get out there and play basketball and have a goal in mind. Obviously we’re trying to get to a championship, but it starts with tomorrow. Take it one game at a time.”

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