Mavs Rookie Coming ‘Full Circle’ With Jayson Tatum In NBA Finals

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Jayson Tatum has led by example for a new wave of players entering the NBA, guiding the Celtics to a league-best 64 wins in the regular season and an NBA Finals appearance against the Mavericks.

Going from the No. 3 overall selection in 2018 to becoming one of the faces of the league is inspiring for anyone following in Tatum’s footsteps. But crossing paths with the five-time All-Star in the Finals is an entirely different ballpark, one which Dallas rookie Dereck Lively II views as a “full circle” moment.

“Full circle,” Lively, who also played at Duke, told reporters Sunday, per Grant Afseth of “I feel like I’ve seen him whenever I was back in college, seen him before college, and now going up against him, he’s an amazing player, they’re an amazing team. It gives me — I don’t even know the words to say — it gives me, like, pins and needles.”

Despite spending a lone (2016-17) season at Duke, Tatum’s Blue Devil connection runs deep in their program. He’s made various return visits, does offseason work with young up-and-coming prospects, and maintains a relationship with former coach and NCAA legend Mike Krzyzewski. Even during this past season’s All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, Tatum and Lively shared a special pregame moment.

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Lively, a participant in the Rising Stars Challenge, asked Tatum for a piece of advice. Though neither Tatum nor Lively could have envisioned returning to center-court, meeting face-to-face on the biggest stage.

It won’t be easy for Lively and the Mavericks, however.

Dallas has been tested from the start of the postseason, overcoming a loaded Western Conference and surpassing the Clippers, Thunder, and Timberwolves before reaching the Finals. Twice, the Mavericks underwent a six-game battle — against Los Angeles and Oklahoma City — and in the conference finals, Dallas stunningly eliminated Minnesota with a rude awakening in five games.

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But the Celtics, well-rested and hungry for redemption for their 2022 Finals loss, are also no walk in the park. Understanding that, Lively feels as though the key for the Mavericks will be to control what they can.

“Being consistent,” Lively responded, per Afseth. “No matter if they’re making a run, no matter if we’re making a run, we gotta be able to have our foot on the gas. No matter what’s going on on the floor, no matter what’s going on and what they say in the stands, we gotta be able to be poised, be focused and execute.”

Boston cruised to a 12-2 run through the Eastern Conference, making fairly easy work of the (albeit shorthanded) Heat, Cavaliers, and Pacers. The team’s already overcome three consecutive, “We want Boston,” chants from opposing postseason fan bases and hasn’t abused its home-court advantage yet.

“There’s a lot of things that’s gonna go on,” Lively said. “You might have some games where you’re perfect from the floor, you might have some games where you’re 0-for-4. It really comes down to whenever you’re making a defensive possession and you get a defensive stop, and you’re pushing on the offensive end and you see everybody on your team take off at the same time; when you’re in that same light together at that point, it doesn’t matter what is going on in the court.”

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