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Jayson Tatum on Celtics’ identity: “us getting close the last two years... allows guys to buy in more”

After a clutch Opening Night win against the Knicks, the MVP candidate sees something different developing in Boston.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In their season opener, the Boston Celtics downed the New York Knicks 108-104 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. Boston’s late game heroics were led by Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis, scoring 18 of Boston’s 26 points in the fourth quarter. Porzingis had a historic debut for the Celtics, and Jayson Tatum didn’t hesitate to heap praise on one of Boston’s newest additions.

“He just makes us that much more dynamic,” said Tatum after the win, “Obviously with his size, his ability to shot, make plays off the dribble. ... He’s really, really good. We’re lucky to have him.” Tatum and Porzingis paved the way for the Celtics offense, netting a combined 64 points on 21-of-37 shooting, 8-of-17 from beyond the arc and an efficient 14-of-16 from the charity stripe.

Porzingis’ skills were on full display for Boston, as was Tatum’s drive and motivation heading into the season in an MVP-caliber performance, totaling 34 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. In his seventh year in the NBA, Boston’s star wing looked as poised as ever, scoring at all three levels with the determination of a man with lofty goals for this season.

After coming up short in their comeback against the Miami Heat this past postseason, Boston faced an offseason full of questions about fit and chemistry, with everyone outside of Jayson Tatum coming under serious scrutiny. Now, months removed from the defeat and completing a major overhaul of their roster, the Celtics gave a glimpse of what this new core may be capable of, and more importantly what their identity might be.

“I think us getting close the last two years and not getting over that hump allows guys to buy in more, with the mindset of just doing whatever each individual needs to do to make the team better,” said Tatum. “Not going to overreact, it’s only one game, we’ve got 81 left, but tonight was a good start.”

Nevertheless, considering Boston only acquired point guard Jrue Holiday the day before Media Day, the Celtics have taken a big step in the right direction and these first few weeks of the season could prove to be crucial.

Championships are not won on paper, nor are they won in the offseason by simply making big splashes via free agency, trade, or some mix of the two. The rise and fall of the Brooklyn Nets and the disaster-class unfolding in Philadelphia should serve as a reminder and cautionary tale; the recipe for success isn’t just about the ingredients, but how those ingredients complement each other in pursuit of the desired result. Boston still needs to give their roster time to settle and gel as they work through the kinks following sweeping changes to the locker room.

Every key player needs to get reacclimated and find the best way to get the most out of one another, a process that will take time and its fair share of bumps in the road. In Boston’s win over New York, Jaylen Brown had his ups and downs, finishing with only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, 0-of-4 from deep along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, one steal and two turnovers. At times, Boston’s $304 million man felt indecisive and reckless, nearly sinking the Celtics late after a brutal stretch of play late in the fourth.

“I mean, it was one game,” said Tatum when asked of Brown’s performance, “We know how special he is, everybody is going to have not great shooting nights, but he still impacted the game in other ways...I’m not going to shoot the ball great some nights, KP may not, but it’s all about how you impact the game in other ways. JB is gonna be fine.”

With so much talent added to Boston’s arsenal, growing pains are bound to happen for some players, and Jaylen Brown is no exception. The Celtics as a whole will have to sacrifice for the greater good of the team in their title pursuit, whether it means coming off the bench or taking the backseat on some nights while others lead the charge on offense. But, there will always be room for players to find ways to impact the game and play a winning brand of basketball.

Wednesday night’s win wasn’t easy or pretty, but for what it’s worth, it very much felt like a game that last year’s iteration of the Celtics would lose. With an identity dependent on sacrifice and impacting the game on all levels, Boston has begun to take steps towards the team they want to be this year; a team that could potentially deliver another banner to the rafters at TD Garden.

Boston will continue to find their rhythm in their home opener against the Miami Heat on Friday night, 7:30 pm EST tipoff.

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