John Tomase

Doncic a lesson in why Celtics fans shouldn't take Tatum for granted

The Celtics star continues to show up in big moments for Boston.

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Jayson Tatum needs to win a title.

Everyone knows it, especially him. Draymond Green put it harshly, but not unfairly, after Tatum's Celtics reached another Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday: "No one cares."

Let's play a different game, however. On Wednesday night, another young superstar with a shoe deal and multiple All-NBA appearances took the floor in Oklahoma City. And here's what TNT's Jared Greenberg had to say about Mavericks magic man Luka Doncic:

"All series long, we have seen what appears to be Luka Doncic laboring up and down the court. Today I was told, if this were the regular season, he would've been shut down for a minimum of at least two weeks. Luka has been getting two or three hours a day of intense physical therapy to treat a litany of ailments, including a sore knee, an ankle sprain, a back injury, and a sore Achilles that I learned has been bothering Luka for approximately the last four months.

"With all of that said, there is hope within the Mavs organization that tonight Luka will be more focused on the Thunder than he has been in this series on the referees."

Umm, wow. That's a lot. I mean, Tony Montana didn't suffer that much damage after getting lit up at the end of Scarface. The absurd injury list reeks of preemptive excuse-making, as does the note that Doncic would be shut down for two weeks if he weren't such a warrior. It's almost like a Mavericks source threw that in there to soften the blow of hammering him for obsessively whining to the officials, which he does like no other.

Now try and recall the last time anyone said anything even remotely similar about Tatum. The answer is never, which is why we shouldn't take him for granted.

Tatum and the Celtics may have their faults, but he's a low-maintenance superstar who rarely misses a game and has his team in the NBA's final four virtually every year. That's not nothing.

Because we're desperate for Tatum and Jaylen Brown to finally raise Banner 18 (and because we're us), we focus on the negative. Tatum's shot selection has been iffy all postseason. He lets the officials bother him. The Celtics can play down to the level of their competition. Their late-game execution often appears inspired by the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

But Tatum just reached his fifth conference finals in seven years. Doncic has only made one, and it lasted just five games. Reigning MVP Joel Embiid hasn't made any. The same goes for Thunder MVP candidate Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. Flavor-of-the-month Anthony Edwards, whom half of you would apparently trade Tatum for tomorrow, needed four years just to get out of the first round and is in the process of blowing a 2-0 lead vs. the Nuggets. Don't even get me started on Chris Paul, James Harden, or Damian Lillard.

Meanwhile, Tatum's postseason exploits are already extensive. He dunked on LeBron in Game 7 as a rookie, when he might've been Boston's best player. He put up 50 vs. Kevin Durant when the Celtics had no business getting anything other than swept by the Nets. He dropped another 50 on the Sixers in Game 7 last year. He beat Brooklyn at the buzzer with a Cam Neely spin-o-rama. His 46 points against Giannis Antetokounmpo staved off elimination in Milwaukee two years ago.

That's in no particular order, just off the top of my head. I didn't even mention the 13 assists in Game 1 of the Finals vs. the Warriors or the 26 and 10 in Game 7 to bounce the Heat on their home floor that same season.

That's a list worth repeating the next time someone tells you Tatum is a frontrunner who disappears in the playoffs. We'd love for him to dominate every night, and he'll need to play better in the Finals if the Celtics get that far, but we're still talking about someone who has appeared in seven Game 7s and won five of them. That's pretty good.

And unlike Doncic, who never looks entirely in shape and apparently needs the world to know he can barely walk, Tatum is durable.

Part of what made the bad-luck ankle sprain in the opening moments of Game 7 vs. the Heat last year so shocking was the sight of Tatum hobbling at all. As Red Sox manager Alex Cora likes to say, Tatum "posts" every night, and there's value in that. While it's true the Celtics were lucky to avoid Jimmy Butler in the first round and Donovan Mitchell for half of the second, it's also true that their star never misses a playoff game. And I mean that literally: He's 104 for 104, playing at least 30 minutes in 96 of them. He answers the bell.

It turns out Doncic responded on Wednesday night, too. He beat the top-seeded Thunder with a 30-point triple-double that will predictably earn oohs, ahhs, and likes. Win one more game, and he'll overcome all of that strategically-leaked adversity to reach his second conference finals.

Or as Tatum called that: Year Three.

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