Jayson Tatum Could Learn a Lot From the Mentality of Larry Bird

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Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics reacts during the third quarter against the Miami Heat.

Jayson Tatum is getting close. The Boston Celtics star reached the NBA Finals for the first time two seasons ago and then came up a game short of the championship round this season. Tatum and Jaylen Brown are arguably the best duo in the NBA and have played together for six years. So far, they haven’t been able to hang Banner 18 in the rafters of TD Garden. Tatum could learn a thing or two from the mentality of Celtics legend Larry Bird.

Jayson Tatum continues to put up big numbers for the Boston Celtics

For the third time in his career, Tatum was named All-NBA. He finished the 2022-23 season with a 30.1 point-per-game scoring average, becoming the first Celtics player to average better than 30 points per game in a season.

Although he’s struggled in the last two postseasons, he’s had his share of big games when his team needed him. Two years ago in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Tatum and the Celtics faced the Milwaukee Bucks on the road in Game 6. The Bucks held a 3-2 series lead, and looked to close out the series at home. Tatum dominated from start to finish, pouring in 46 points and lifting the Celtics to a 108-95 win. The Celtics won the series in seven games.

Last season, Tatum struggled through the conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers — until Game 7. That’s when he put together a dominant outing, racking up 51 points in a Celtics win that put them back in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the game, he threw up a “51” sign with his hands after hitting the mark. He later told the national television audience that he was “humbly one of the best basketball players in the world.”

That 51-point outburst was his peak moment of the postseason. Boston then fell to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the conference finals, losing Game 7 in embarrassing fashion at home.

Tatum could learn a lot from Larry Bird

Larry Bird was a better basketball player than Jayson Tatum, and it’s really not close. Tatum puts up the big numbers, aided by the three-point game and the fact he’s attempted more shots than anyone in the last two seasons. Tatum is a very good player, but he’s not Bird good.

Bird never claimed he was the best. He found ways to make his teammates better. He found ways to win.

Tatum knew exactly how many points he had when he threw up his “51” sign. Stats seem to matter to him. Bird, who won three straight MVPs from 1984 to 1986, didn’t care about numbers. He wanted to win. He reached the NBA Finals five times in his career, winning three championships.

“When you play for the Celtics, you hear about all the history, and every night you look up at the championship flags that hang from the rafters in the Garden,” Bird wrote in his book, Drive: The Story of My Life. “It really can overwhelm you. Until we won our first title in 1981, we couldn’t completely relate to all that.

“You can’t, until your team wins a championship of its own. Until your team does that, you’re not really a part of it. You can’t put yourself into the history book with the old Celtic greats until your team can hang a banner of its own.

“The Celtics are all about championships. Unless your team has a flag up there, you can’t really say you played on the same court as Bill Russell. At least that’s the way I feel about it. You don’t know anything about Celtics pride if your team doesn’t have a banner.”