Celtics Notes: Tatum, Porzingis, Van Gundy

Being named MVP is one of Jayson Tatum‘s career goals, but leading the Celtics to an NBA title ranks higher on his list, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. Tatum said at All-Star Weekend that he believes voters look at him differently based on a subpar performance in the 2022 Finals, Washburn adds. Although Tatum averaged 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists in that series, he shot just 31% on two-pointers and had difficulty scoring inside against Andrew Wiggins.

“Of course you want to win those things,” Tatum told reporters last weekend in Indianapolis. “But you can’t take precedence over playing the right way and doing the things that you have to do in order for your team to essentially be the best team in the league and have a chance to win a championship. Would I love to win? Yes. But apparently us losing the Finals two years ago affects what people think of me now, so I guess I’ve got some ground to make up.”

Tatum’s MVP case is boosted by the dominance of the Celtics, who won their eighth straight game Saturday in New York. Boston holds the league’s best record by a wide margin, but its roster is so talented that Tatum doesn’t have to carry the team, which often limits the stats that voters tend to look at when casting their ballots. Coach Joe Mazzulla made that point after Tatum’s 19-point performance against the Knicks.

“I thought today was a beautiful display of basketball from Jayson that will go underlooked and will not go into the most valuable category,” Mazzulla said. “But his ability to control the game with his pick-and-roll pace, his pick-and-roll passing; his defense, he put himself on ((Jalen) Brunson. And the poise of welcoming the two-on-ones (double teams) and creating for others was great.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Kristaps Porzingis, one of Boston’s major acquisitions last summer, gives credit to the front office for its bold moves in assembling the current roster, per Souichi Terada of MassLive. “When the opportunity presented, for me at least, I said this is gonna work, 100%,” Porzingis said. “Or we’re gonna figure it out sooner than later. And it just worked right away because of the fit, because of where I am in my career, and adding Jrue (Holiday). … So just overall great players but also great people and that makes the team connect very easily.”
  • With an eight-game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, Mazzulla will have the opportunity to rest players for the remainder of the season to keep them fresh for the playoffs, notes Brian Robb of MassLive. He adds that it’s a luxury for a team that may have worn itself out by chasing seedings in past years.
  • Senior consultant of basketball operations Jeff Van Gundy has stayed out of the spotlight, but he has been a welcome addition to the Celtics’ management team, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “One of the best things he does is he’s just a great listener,” Mazzulla said. “And so you don’t realize how long he’s been in the NBA. You don’t realize the playoff series that he’s been in, the experiences that he’s had, because he waits for the opportunity to come up and almost waits for you to ask him. So he’s very patient. He’s a great listener. And then just a guy that you can bounce ideas off of.”
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