Tatum has since spoken about how that series affected him, about how he had trouble leaving his house for several days in its immediate aftermath, and about how he ultimately looked at it as a learning experience. He had thought he understood that the playoffs were a grind, he said then, but now he really knew.
Still, the ghosts from the finals seemed to linger when Boston visited Golden State on Dec. 10 in their first of two meetings this season. In hindsight, Tatum said, the Celtics were too excited, too eager for some form of revenge: Tatum struggled, and the Celtics lost by 16.
“Everybody wanted to win so bad,” he said.
Before Thursday’s game, the Celtics tried to maintain a more balanced perspective. The gist of their conversations this week, Tatum said, was that one game was not going to erase what happened last season.
“The fact of the matter is, we lost — we lost the championship,” he said. “We can’t go back in time and change that. So we didn’t look at this as a rematch of the finals. It’s just one game against a great team, great players and obviously a great coach. But it’s just one game.”
Tatum kept repeating that phrase — that it was just one game — as if he were trying to convince himself that it was true. Some of his actions on Thursday indicated otherwise. Consider: He played 48 minutes. Mazzulla said he had a brief conversation with Tatum about whether to leave him in the game early in the fourth quarter.
“I looked at him, he looked at me, we kind of said, ‘Yeah,’ and that was it,” Mazzulla said.
Perhaps fatigue played a role in a few of Tatum’s mistakes. He shot only 9 of 27 from the field, though he made up for it in other ways, collecting 34 points, 19 rebounds and 6 assists — a stat line that would have made other players proud.
Tatum, though, has higher standards now, and bigger goals. On Thursday, his teammates backed him up, another sign of growth for a young group that continues to move forward. Sure, it was only one game. But even Tatum acknowledged a deeper meaning.
“Just trying to put the past behind us,” he said.