Celtics star Jayson Tatum is just two years removed from undergoing the gut-wrenching experience of losing in the NBA Finals, falling just two wins short of helping Boston raise its 18th championship banner.

At the time, Tatum was 23 years old, playing under then-first-year head coach Ime Udoka while finally getting over the Eastern Conference finals hump. Boston even took a 2-1 series lead over the Warriors, but then allowed the Warriors to win three straight and celebrate on its home floor at TD Garden. Those memories stuck with Tatum for a while, but the now-five-time All-Star doesn’t intend on looming over the past.

“I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason,” Tatum told ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “And maybe I needed to go through that for something. Haven’t figured that (part) out yet, but it happened and I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned from it. In a weird way, I’m thankful for it — that experience. As tough as it was, as much as it hurt, I’m thankful that I went through that and I think it’s made me a better person and player.”

Tatum averaged 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and seven assists but committed 23 turnovers and was held to under 20 points in the first and final games of the series. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson sniffed a picture-perfect chance to carry the torch of their dynasty in Golden State and attacked.

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Now, with the same expectations in place, the Celtics are a significantly different team and Tatum’s had a major hand in that change for the better.

Tatum’s redirected the conversation from being at the center of MVP talks last season to now leading an NBA-best (43-12) Celtics squad through 55 games. At the forefront of getting Boston to that point, Tatum’s taken the sacrificial route, taking fewer shot attempts and averaging fewer points than last season to allow the supporting cast to get a hold of the spotlight too.

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Getting the team on track has opened the door for teammates Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis to record All-Star-caliber numbers routinely, all while few opposing teams have been able to compete with the Celtics. Boston’s watched as the Milwaukee Bucks made a desperate midseason head-coaching switch and other Eastern Conference rivals scattered throughout the trade deadline to pull off some last-minute roster improvement.

So far, so good, but there’s still plenty of time for Tatum and the Celtics to either maintain their red-hot momentum or collapse like last season.

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The 2022 finals alone should be enough of a motivator for Tatum and the remaining five other players who shared the heartbreak of that series.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images