Jayson Tatum melted like the Wicked Witch of the West when the weight of winning a title and pressure exerted by the Golden State Warriors was overbearing.
Tatum turned over the ball an NBA record 100 times during the postseason.
He missed 15 shots and scored only 13 points in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
He was +1, -13 and -2 in the final three losses to Golden State.
But Tatum did not switch allegiances and knocked out a hype Stanley Cup video for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors, turning one’s back on the Bruins is cause for impeachment. Unless you pay $900 million for the Pittsburgh Penguins that could have been used to lock up Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers until the 2032 Olympics. When that happens, your newspaper, the radio station that airs your team’s baseball games, and your cable network dubs you a genius.
Rob Gronkowski flipped on the Bruins Monday, a day before announcing his second retirement from the NFL. (Or third if you believe what happened when he learned of a proposed trade to the Detroit Lions in 2018.)
It was just three years ago Gronkowski waved the Bruins flag before Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against St. Louis.
Since that moment, Boston has waved nothing but the White Flag.
The Bruins stoically watched the Blues celebrate a championship on TD Garden ice. The Celtics ceded the TD Garden parquet to the Warriors so they could fete their fourth NBA title in just eight years last week. And, of course, Gronkowski and Brady teamed up to deliver a Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay.
For Tatum, his vaporization in the furnace of the NBA Finals is his legacy du jour. As much as one might want to try Gronk or Brady for New England sports treason because they rooted for the dreaded Lightning, at least they won when they were here.
Theirs is a record to be envied, not condemned.
Some of us remember a time when gasoline was only $2.25 a gallon, baby formula was an afterthought, and winning championships was the only legitimate measuring tool allowed for fans in and of New England.
It’s clear given the fallout of the Celtics’ fall in the Finals, Boston has devolved from “The City of Champions” to the “Good Job, Good Effortville.”
Tatum, for better or worse, has become its face.
On the day of Game 6 against Golden State, Tatum was 24 years, 3 months, and 13 days old. Or 8,771 days to be precise.
The day Tom Brady and the Patriots won Super Bowl 36, Brady was 24 years, 5 months old. Or 8,950 days to be precise.
Tatum’s performance this past postseason generated more questions than it answered.
Can Tatum lead the Celtics to an NBA title?
Can he develop another stage to his offensive game?
Does Tatum have a killer instinct hidden in his DNA, yearning to be free?
Tatum paid tribute to the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird and even Tiger Woods via his apparel in the postseason. He won the first-ever Larry Bird Eastern Conference MVP Award.
But is that his limit?
Can Tatum, after five years in the league, manifest a similar competitive nature that defined those past greats who were featured on his clothing?
We’ve been kidding about Tatum being “only 19” for five years. He’s already played 365 career regular-season games and a whopping 74 in the playoffs and NBA Finals. That’s a full season in the postseason when you factor in load-management and back-to-back, home-and-home series.
Tatum will surpass Brady’s Super Bowl 36 age on Sept. 3.
The same questions about his intestinal fortitude will remain.
Brady comparisons may seem unfair now. But they weren’t 20+ years ago.
The 2022 Celtics were the greenest among the Green Teams. No player on the roster had ever played in the NBA Finals. Neither its head coach nor its GM had a championship of their own. That was a first among the 22 NBA Finals entrants from Boston.
This was the first Celtics team to reach the NBA Finals without a player who had won a championship since 1981. Those 1981 Celtics had Red Auerbach in the front office. Even the 1956-57 Celtics, the guys who brought you Banner No. 1, featured Arnie Risen at center. He had won a title with the 1951 Rochester Royals.
That overwhelming shamrock hue played a much bigger role in Boston’s NBA Finals collapse than previously noted. There was no Big Papi to call out his peers mid-series and demand they stop whining about the refs, quit reacting to the Warriors trash talk, and focus instead on scoring and shooting.
These Celtics lacked gravitas. In addition to a legit point guard and scoring off the bench.
Calling Tatum “soft” is brutish, cruel, and one-dimensional. It is also apt. Maybe “Charminesque” is more imaginative. His play was hampered by fear and hesitation at the most crucial moments. We witnessed 23 turnovers off Tatum’s fingers against Golden State, many resulting from ill-advised passes against what should have been gimme-matchups.
That at the peak of his physical prowess, Celtics State Run Media was running with the “fatigue” narrative is as much of an insult to Tatum as it is to them.
Yes, Tatum went from the NBA 2020 Bubble, to preparing for the 2021 Olympics, to a full 2021-22 season and postseason.
But that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are 24 and a borderline NBA superstar.
Tatum was spectacular until the Finals. That won’t be discounted here. The Celtics would not have even faced Miami if it weren’t for Tatum’s DVD-worthy performance against Milwaukee in Game 6.
For some in and of New England, that is still not good enough. The Celtics used to be that way, too.
Tatum has the raw talent to dominate.
The rest of his equation has yet to be solved.
Bill Speros (@RealOBF) can be reached at [email protected]