Despite spending Tuesday trying to figure out who tabbed him a superstar, Tatum is indeed one and thus the central target for opposing defenses and their physicality. Tatum has to respond to that treatment with more of a nasty streak. He can no longer be Mr. Nice Celtic, serving up points with a smile.
Tatum was asked about his philosophy on trash talking and offered a rather kind answer. He doesn’t seem bothered by it but sometimes should create more of an edge, more of a desire to quiet those detractors.
“I just go out there and play basketball, right? I get I’m on the quieter side,” he said. “But, you know, I do talk to people that I know, right? If I know you, we got like a relationship, a history on the floor, I’ll talk to you. I’m all about being competitive and all those things. If you say something to me, I’m going to respond. I’m not an instigator or things like that. I just go out there and play.
“At the end of the day it’s basketball. You got to understand what certain people are trying to do, take you off your game. But, you know, I love that part of it, whether I show it or not. I enjoy the competitive part, the nuances and things like that, that everybody may or may not see that go on between the lines. That’s the fun part about it.”
Tatum has 30 technical fouls in his career, largely for arguing calls with officials. This reporter can’t recall one single technical foul from an altercation with another player. That’s not Tatum’s style.
The Celtics are going to have to do more than feed off the home crowd Wednesday for intensity. Green single-handedly turned a polite series into a contentious one. He said the Celtics “weren’t feeling us enough” after their Game 1 win. He started Game 2 by drawing a jump ball against Al Horford on Boston’s first possession.
He continued by drawing key fouls in the opening period to help Brown and Tatum into early foul trouble. Green drew a game-high eight fouls in Game 2, three more than Stephen Curry. And he let the Celtics know about every one of their miscues, especially Brown and Grant Williams.
It was Williams who said he patterned his game after Green and then made the mistake of talking smack during Game 2. Green responded by telling Williams, “You wish you were me.”
Green said Williams was asking for it. He attempted to get into Williams’s head and he succeeded. Basketball is as much psychological as it is physical, and Green uses verbal warfare to get his opponents to concentrate on anything besides their designed responsibilities.
“For a young guy to … I think there’s a balance, right; like I’m assuming you’re talking Grant Williams,” Green said. “I think when you see that, when you see a guy say, ‘man, I grew up watching him,’ you appreciate it, because that’s why you work. You work to create a path for the next young guy. Like, my goal when I came in here was to create a path for Grant Williams.
“To hear him say that is an honor, so I don’t take that for granted one bit.
“When a guy comes and starts — when you say that and then you start talking junk to me, then yes, I’m going to say something about that. Of course. But I didn’t say anything about that Game 1 because he wasn’t talking to me. I’m not going to go watch his press conference where he gives me props, where he appreciates my game and then go throw it in his face. That’s whack to me. I’m not doing that. That’s just not how I roll.”
Celtics coach Ime Udoka can’t tell his players how to react to Green or to the constant chatter. He doesn’t want his players more concerned about comeback lines than playing the game. If it does come naturally, then say something. It comes naturally for Williams, sort of for Brown, but not at all for Tatum.
Udoka did indicate however how he would prefer his players to react.
“For us it’s to be who you are,” he said. “I told them if I was a player, who I was, I would probably get a double technical immediately. But that’s not everybody. Do what you do. Block it out or meet physicality with physicality.”
The Celtics are promising more strength and more aggressiveness in Game 3. But they can’t allow themselves to be talked down and denigrated by Green. The message needs to be sent quickly that this team is not as nice as advertised.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.