Why Jayson Tatum’s Game 5 performance forever changed his legacy

2024 NBA Finals - Game Five
2024 NBA Finals - Game Five / Elsa/GettyImages

He may not have been named NBA Finals MVP as the Boston Celtics secured their 18th franchise title, but Jayson Tatum’s Game 5 performance was one that will ultimately boost his legacy as he attempts to become a Celtics legend.

"It's a hell of a feeling," Tatum said of being an NBA Champion. "I dreamed about what it would be like, but this is 10 times better."

If you were to only look at the first four games of the Finals, it’s easy to see why Jaylen Brown took home MVP honors. Despite a valiant Game 3 that saw the St. Louis native put up 31 points, Tatum was rather uninspiring. He shot a combined 12 of 38 from the field across the first two contests and only attempted 10 field goals in what was a lopsided fourth installment.

Boston was the more experienced team, and it showed when Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving did not play their best basketball. As a result, Tatum did not need to be brilliant for the Celtics to win. Although he averaged more points than Brown across the five-game series, he was less efficient throughout.

Even still, Tatum’s Game 5 may have been good enough to absolve him from his earlier inconsistency. The 26-year old posted 31 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds while shooting roughly 46% from the field. It was his best game of the series, and it importantly came in a closeout situation.

Tatum's growing versatility fueled a big Game 5 showing

Tatum's 31 points granted him 2,711 career playoff points, which is the most of any player aged 26 or younger. The mark breaks Kobe Bryant’s record, who had 2,694 points in 119 games for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tatum, Brown, and the Celtics were doubted by many due to their past failures. Some pundits even felt that the Mavs would be able to best Boston if Doncic and Irving played well enough.

“We were always good and talented," Tatum told ESPN. "The game needed to slow down. We got to the conference finals two out of our first three years, and it just seemed like we were all so much older than we actually are. Everybody was like, 'Oh, they didn't win it. They can't play together. They should trade him.' And I was always like, 'I just turned 26 and he's 27.'

"Nobody wanted to give us no time."

As far as Tatum is individually concerned, Game 5 showed that he could help a team close out a Finals series in two distinct ways. His scoring output was impressive, but the way he set up teammates also showed a level of maturity that should not go unnoticed.

It’s been said that a true superstar should be able to elevate their teammates, and Tatum did just that on Monday. He may not have been the 2024 NBA Finals MVP, but his play in the clincher will be a key part of his legacy.