Jayson Tatum bounced back in Saturday’s buzzer-beating loss to the Dallas Mavericks with 32 points and 11 rebounds, playing more like himself after a difficult start to the season.
Tatum never doubted that he would return to form but he admitted after the 107-104 loss that he is aware of his critics and detractors, that he understands the scrutiny that comes with being an NBA superstar, and he’s fully prepared to accept the judgment.
“I put too much time in, too much work to doubt myself and what I’m capable of,” he said. “My teammates, coaches, and everybody we play against, they know what I’m capable of. I guess you go through periods like that where things don’t go how you want them to go, you just keep working and embrace it and figure it out. It’s a long season, a lot of games to play, you see everything people say and hear everything but that’s part of it, (I) should be worried when you guys stop talking about me, that will be a problem.
“It is part of the business, part of what I do, take it with a grain of salt.”
Tatum was the subject of criticism from his own teammate, Marcus Smart, who said after the Nov. 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls that Tatum and Jaylen Brown need to learn to pass more to make the offense less predictable.
The Celtics held a players’ only meeting a day later where many matters were hashed out, but Tatum, like Brown, did not believe those concerns should have been made public.
“Personally, we talked about it,” Tatum said. “We had a team meeting, I guess. I know how to play basketball, pretty successful at it. I don’t always make the right plays. I’m not perfect. I got things I could work on. That’s the good part about it, as young as I am and as good as people think I am, I got a lot to improve on and I’m the first one to say [that]. I’m always going to play the game the right way and the way that I was taught and the way I’m been playing my whole life. That’s never going to change.”
Tatum would have preferred team issues remain private.
“There’s certain things I wouldn’t come over here and tell you guys about our game plan specifically,” he said. “It happened, we’re still a team, we’re still figuring it out, still trying to win games. It’s not like I’m upset or sad for whatever. Let’s move on. Let’s try to figure it out.”
The Celtics finished this important trip 2-1, with wins over Orlando and Miami and then playing well enough to beat the Mavericks before Luka Doncic’s heroics in the final seconds. The club is still 4-6 but has played with more consistency and inspired effort, a sign they are digesting new coach Ime Udoka’s system.
Meanwhile, Tatum is becoming accustomed to seeing traps and double teams late in games. Opposing teams do not want the ball in his hands, and he has to make the necessary adjustments.
“I’m really encouraged by the way we played,” Tatum said. “I know our record doesn’t show it, 4-6, two double-overtime games, buzzer beater. We’re a couple of plays away from having more wins. Make quick decisions, I think that’s refreshing that as many shots that I done missed lately I still get double-teams and trappers. That makes me feel good. Try to get the ball out as quickly as I can, they’re playing 4 of 3.”
Tatum has been outspoken on social media for the past several months, starting with showing support for embattled gymnast Simone Biles at the Tokyo Olympics. He said he understands better that he is a role model and mentor, especially for young people who follow him. At a recent game in Houston, Tatum was riding the stationary bike near the Celtics bench when a young fan walked toward him and he was blocked by a Celtics security guard. A few moments later, he walked past Tatum again, and Tatum greeted him with a wave and a smile. The kid melted.
“I understand that I have a platform and being who I am, a lot of people look at what I say and what I do and a lot of kids look up to me and I think addressing, not always just the 60- and 50-point games and those big moments, your favorite player struggles. They miss shots. They go in slumps,” he said. “Understanding I’m going to figure it out. I don’t doubt myself, it’s a process but it is frustrating. I know you can’t worry. The pressure I put on myself, the goals I want to obtain, it doesn’t have anything to do with how good people think I am or how bad they think I’m playing, it’s always internal and me trying to be as great as I want to be. Not to ever shy away from [tough times], you have to be the same people when you’re scoring 60 and the same people when you’re 3 for 15 and you’re losing a couple of games and everybody is looking at you.
“The quote that Dame [Lillard] had, “tough times, they show your true character,” that was spot on. You’ve always got to stand on that and keep your head high.”
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.