Celtics will win unprecedented 18th title if stars Tatum and Brown focus on details, not emotions

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, left, celebrates with teammate guard Jrue Holiday (4) after Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Indiana Pacers, Monday, May 27, 2024, in Indianapolis. The Celtics won 105-102.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)


BOSTON (AP) — Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla doesn’t point to just one moment he believes helped his team get past the emotions of losing to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals two years ago.

There were many.

“You can pick numerous experiences that everybody in our locker room has been through that you need to be able to use for the situation we’re in now. That will remain the same for the rest of our careers,” Mazzulla said. “I think it’s all about using what you’ve been through good, bad, indifferent, to help you in the present moment. The guys are doing it.”

And if this team ultimately emerges from this Finals matchup with the Dallas Mavericks with the franchise’s 18th championship, it will be because it — and especially stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — stuck to the details Mazzulla has preached throughout his second season as Boston’s coach.

That’s what Mazzulla took away most from watching as a back bench assistant two years ago as a member of then-coach Ime Udoka’s staff.

“It’s the details, the execution, the ability to take your mindset and your body to the next level,” Mazzulla said. “The toughest team will win. The team that makes the most plays will win. The team that can execute the details at a high level will win. It’s no different.”

For the most part, the focus on defense and 3-point shooting that Udoka brought to Boston hasn’t changed much in the two years under Mazzulla.

But a lot of the pressure Tatum and Brown heaped on themselves the past two seasons has been reduced by the presence of offseason acquisitions Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, as well as the consistency of a bench led by veteran Al Horford.

As a result, Tatum and Brown have seen their overall production increase.

Tatum’s scoring numbers have remained steady from the regular season (26.9 per game) into the playoffs (26.0), while his rebounding has increased from 8.1 to 10.4 per game in the postseason. Brown has also seen jumps in those categories, going from 23.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game to 25.0 points and 6.1 rebounds in the playoffs.

But it’s been tweaks to their overall mental approaches to this season that have stood out.

For a chunk of his career Brown acknowledged he was at times a victim of consuming much of the negative perception people have had about him.

That’s changed this season, which he played under his most unrelenting spotlight yet as the league’s first $300 million player.

“You get to a point where it’s, like, you get scrutinized enough for a large part of your career, it becomes normal. Then it just rolls off you,” Brown said. “I don’t know if Jayson feels the same way. It’s kind of been that my whole career in a sense. Just being booed when you were drafted to saying you were overpaid, saying you were overpaid again. It’s been that the whole journey for me.”

Tatum, too, has let go of the mental blocks he believes weighed him down. That includes reluctantly accepting the disappointments he’s endured along the way.

“I hate that I had to go through it. I wish we would have won,” he said. “But I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. There’s a lesson to be learned in every situation. I do. I do feel a lot different this time, this go-around, two years later. I’m excited for the opportunity for us to get the job done.”

As they prepare to finish the task beginning with Game 1 Thursday night, Mazzulla believes they are ready for the moment.

“The coolest thing about where Jaylen has been is his surrender to anything external and the most important thing is his growth and development as a person and as a player,” Mazzulla said. “That’s all he cares about, is getting better. … I think it’s the same for Jayson.”


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