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January 22, 2023

BOSTON — As Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics have been on their roller coaster ride over the past few months, turning their season around and reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in his career, there has been much debate over the Tatum’s position within the NBA.

But as he prepares to play his NBA Finals opener at TD Garden on Wednesday night when the Celtics host the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals with the series tied 1-1, Tatum said he knew three more wins would give him an indisputable title: NBA champion.

“If you win a championship, they can debate a lot of things,” Tatum said after Boston practice Tuesday. “They can’t debate whether you’re a champion or not.

“Obviously I lost the other night. I can’t wait to bounce back tomorrow. First game of the final at home, at the Garden. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to be there, to enjoy this experience.”

Tatum became the face of the Boston franchise, earning a first-team All-NBA selection this season and a third straight All-Star selection before then leading Boston to the playoffs past Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler to bring the Celtics to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

But his rise has led to debates over whether he is a star or graduated in the rarefied air of superstardom.

After being asked if anything about this run ‘as a superstar player’ surprised him, Tatum smiled as he turned the question around and asked where the idea that he was or wasn’t came from. not a superstar.

“A lot of people want to debate,” Tatum said. “I guess you just commented on superstar, whatever that means right? I saw there is a huge debate: is he a superstar or not? I want to know from where this is coming. Did I tweet this? Did I ever say I’m a superstar, I’m about to? This never came from me.

“It’s been a big deal for the last year and a half or two years. I see it all the time. There’s always been a question in the back of my head, I wonder who spoke on my behalf or said that or why it was such a big deal.”

Beyond the natural back-and-forth of bar debates, the argument also arose, in part, because of Tatum’s growth as a player. He and the Celtics went through three future Hall of Famers in Durant, Antetokounmpo and Butler to get here – including two seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals.

Tatum won the first Larry Bird Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the Eastern Conference Finals by averaging 25 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists against the Heat. He had 30 and 46 points in two road wins in the Bucks series. And he even found ways to contribute when he struggled, like when he had 13 assists while scoring 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting in Boston’s Game 1 win over Golden State.

And he helped prevent the Celtics from losing back-to-back playoff games — something Boston has done only once, period, since late January, and that happened when half of its team did not play in Toronto for a season-ending back-to-back second half.

“You have a bad day at work, the next day you want to have a better day at work,” he said. “I think everyone can relate to that. You lose a game or you don’t play well, you want to come back and have a better game.

“I’m sure everyone can relate to that, no matter what your job is. It’s the same thing.”

What’s not the same is being three games away from an NBA championship for the first time in his career.

Boston is going to have to focus on taking care of the ball. When the Celtics have 15 or fewer turnovers in the playoffs, as they did in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they are 13-2. But when Boston has 16 or more turnovers, like in Game 2, Boston is 0-5.

“Turnovers are a big part of the game, especially when you see how many times we turned it over and how many runs they scored,” Tatum said. “You just think if you could limit those turnovers, you could limit a lot of those points.

“Yeah, I mean basically we’re not turning the ball over, we’re giving ourselves a better chance to win. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a matter of doing it more often than not.”

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