It’s a message Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla breaks out when his players are going through a difficult situation. He used it earlier this season when Jaylen Brown missed two crucial free throws in overtime in a regular-season loss.
And Mazzulla echoed that message to Jayson Tatum with the Celtics star going through arguably the worst three-quarter stretch in his entire career before coming to life in the final frame to lift Boston to a 95-86 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Wells Fargo Center.
“Tell him I love him,” Mazzulla told reporters on what he said to Tatum, per The Athletic’s Jared Weiss.
Mazzulla was pressed if he told the 25-year-old more than just those few words.
“That’s a pretty powerful statement,” Mazzulla said, per Weiss.
Whether there was more to it or not, it worked out for Tatum, who scored 14 of Boston’s final 16 points after missing 13-of-14 shots through the first 36 minutes. He knocked down four 3-pointers over the final 4:14, the first of which gave the Celtics the lead and the following triples helped Boston pull away. Tatum scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as he outscored the 76ers by himself in the final frame.
Tatum said the messaging from Mazzulla was nothing new.
“He told me that before,” Tatum said, per league-provided video. “Me and Joe we talk — I don’t want to say separately — but there’s moments throughout this season, things going great, things not going great, sometimes we just pull each other to the side. … I love that relationship that me and Joe have.”
Tatum finding his groove at the most critical time helped keep the Celtics’ season alive and forced a decisive Game 7. And he should expect to hear the same things from Mazzulla during that game, too.
“Multiple times. Over and over again,” Mazzulla said, per Weiss. “And the rest of the team.”