After Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum had a tough NBA Finals, Brad Stevens had a simple message for his team’s franchise player.
“I just told him to go on vacation,” Boston’s president of basketball operations Stevens said with a smile during a video conference call with reporters after Boston’s season ended with a six-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the championship round the league ended. “Go and rest.
“This guy gave us everything he had. If you look at the minutes, if you look at the games played… I’ve said it many times: he’s a superstar who doesn’t want to sit. He wants to play, He wants to play all the time. I thought obviously in the final he would be the first to say he wanted some of those moments back, but I thought there were other factors that contributed to the way he played.”
The 24-year-old superstar, who was named to the All-NBA First Team, had his ups and downs in the playoffs. He finished the postseason with the most turnovers of any player in a single playoff in NBA history and in the Finals he shot 50% from field once and under 40% four times against Golden State – including just 31.6% on 2-point shots.
As a result, both 2-point shooting and making play were a problem not just for Tatum but for the entire team as Boston narrowly missed their goals. However, Stevens said it should be remembered how good both Tatum and Jaylen Brown were in terms of post-season success at this point in their careers and that without them the team would not have gotten to where it was.
Stevens specifically pointed to Tatum’s 46-point game on the road in Milwaukee in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals as evidence of this.
“The way I’m trying to look at it, it’s obvious we’re all subjective in every moment and reacting emotionally, but when you start looking at it objectively and more historically, what Jayson and Jaylen historically did in the playoffs their age is rarefied air,” Stevens said. “I think we’re very aware of the fact that while Jayson admittedly wouldn’t have played his best series, there’s no way we could do without him and without all of his greatness game to the end.
“Thinking back to all those times… Game 6 in Milwaukee was one of the best games I’ve seen in my singles time, certainly personally and with the Celtics. Without that performance, we would have had that discussion a month and a half ago.”
By “this discussion,” Stevens was referring to how Boston fell short in these playoffs and what the Celtics need to do to improve. The two areas he singled out? More consistent bench scoring and playmaking across the squad.
However, Stevens was just as quick to point out that a unique combination of size and versatility has allowed the Celtics to go as far as they have this season across the board – and that Boston is looking to improve this summer and the Celtics must remain aware of those strengths and are allowed to use them don’t take away to improve other things on the team.
“I think we have to walk a little bit of a fine line,” Stevens said. “I think teams are fragile. I think the way teams collaborate and work together is fragile. And I think your identity as a team, when you find one that’s successful, which is what we’ve done this year on the defensive end of the floor and when we’ve been at our best, when we’ve shared the ball offensively, those things are fragile. So just adding doesn’t mean you’re not taking something away from the group.”
He went on to say that no Celtics players – including Robert Williams III, who was dealing with left knee pain during the playoffs – will need surgery and said the rest will be enough for Williams and everyone else in the squad to recover from a grueling playoff run that saw Boston play 24 of a possible 28 games.