Tatum’s self-control, and a title, are his last hurdles – Boston Herald

Time for some Celtics word play.

Can you put Jayson Tatum and Tommy Heinsohn in the same sentence without using profanity?

“Not a joke,” to quote our abstruse Commander in Chief.

Let’s give it a try.

“Tonight, Jayson Tatum plays in his 104th playoff game as a member of the Boston Celtics, tying Tommy Heinsohn for 16th on the team’s all-time list.”

Let that marinate for a minute. Sure, there are more playoff games these days than there were when those Tommy points showed up in the box score.

But Tatum is now playing in his sixth second-round NBA playoff series. Impressive indeed. Boston is 59-44 (.572) in Tatum’s previous 103 playoff games. He’s posted 42 double-doubles and one triple-double.

What Tatum has lacked in the postseason is consistency – until this season. He’s totaled more than 40 points, rebounds, and assists combined in 7 of the team’s 9 playoff games this spring, finishing with 38 and 39 in the other two. He’s been above water on the plus/minus line in each game, save for the blowout loss to Cleveland in Game 2.

That consistency – at least thus far – is a terrific sign.

It’s also a reminder that Tatum alone cannot carry this team to Banner 18. Nor should he. He’s at his best the Alpha 1 to Jaylen Brown’s Alpha 2. Tatum doesn’t need to dominate, as long as he and Brown each hold up their end of the bargain.

A consistent Jayson Tatum is the essential metallurgical element in the Celtics’ next championship ring. He cannot afford more than one off-night per series if Boston wishes to push through Denver or Dallas in the NBA Finals.

Perhaps we are finally seeing the finished product. Tatum is 26 and thus has yet to reach his peak athletic prowess. But he’s been in the postseason 7 times. The Golden State Warriors hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and Steph Curry the Bill Russell Trophy on the TD Garden cursed parquet after beating Tatum’s Celtics. As did the Miami Heat before they left Boston with the Larry Bird Trophy.

Tatum needs no more motivation.

No one’s learning curve ends, but Tatum’s has to be on the downslide. Sure, he needs to develop another shot closer to the basket. And he holds the ball too long.

But his game – note game – has matured beyond his years.

Rebounds matter. Assists matter. Defense matters. It’s no longer all about chucking threes.

What we are seeing this postseason is what we’re going to get with Tatum.

That’s not all bad.

But here’s where it gets not so good.

One more sentence that includes Tatum and Heinsohn – without profanity.

“No one has complained more about in-game Celtics officiating over the past 40 years than Tommy Heinsohn, except Jayson Tatum.”

Tatum has seized the torch from the late, great Heinsohn when it comes to giving the referees two ear-fulls.

Heinsohn carried immense court cred when it came inundating the refs with his bombastic outbursts. His 8 rings as a player, and 2 as a coach, offered an impregnable shield when it came to those upset with his “homerism” as an announcer, or his pugnacious attitude astride the Celtics bench.

Tatum’s tantrums, meanwhile, ring hollow in the ears of officials and fans. At times, it seems he is 26 going on 19.

There’s a fine line between passion and pouting. And the Celtics continue to cross it too often.

For one, Tatum’s outbursts take away from his game in the game, especially when it comes to getting back on defense after an alleged missed foul when he’s whiffing on a shot.

They also offer a poor example for his young son who is a regular at courtside.

For the record, I didn’t bring Deuce into this. His dad did. Nightly. And as a dad for 30 years, I carry immense court cred on that matter.

We are nothing if not fair. We ripped the Patriots for their “zero-point-zero” grade point average when it came to accommodating player’s families on game day. Praise the Celtics for turning TD Garden into the Red Auerbach Memorial Day Care Center. Wyc gets it when it comes to pampering his players. Meanwhile, his counterpart with the Bruins remains in hiding somewhere with John Henry as his team gets jobbed by the NHL.

But in the NBA, you must win before you can whine. Whether Deuce is at courtside or home in bed.

Tatum’s role model, Kobe Bryant, rode Shaq’s coattails to his first NBA title at age 21. Magic Johnson almost single-handedly beat the Sixers as a rookie to earn his first ring in 1980. Larry Bird stitched his first banner as an NBA sophomore.

They all won titles before age 26.

The greats worked the refs like they did opposing defenses. Or in the case of Larry Bird, those poor souls in the locker room before the 1988 NBA three-point contest.

But the non-stop berating of the refs only came after the championship banner.

NBA referees aren’t intimidated by wanna-be superstars when they hear it from proven superstars every night.

Tatum has a clean path to become that “proven superstar” this season. Which means a title. With help from his teammates, of course.

The Celtics got it right by putting the Heat out of their misery in five games. They need to do the same with the Cavaliers tonight. A win puts Boston 3 full games ahead of last year’s pace in terms of postseason games played after just 2 rounds.

Al Horford isn’t getting any younger. Kristaps Porzingis may be ready to play in a week, which would be the layoff awaiting Boston as the Knicks and Pacers bash each other into oblivion.

Tatum and Brown put together back-to-back spectacular games in Cleveland.

Now they just have to do it nine more times.

With Tatum leading the way.

The Tommy Awards await.

Bill Speros (@RealOBF and @BillSperos on X) can be reached at

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