By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — Jayson Tatum was awed by the scene.
There were swarms of reporters from all over the world. The backdrop behind him was emblazoned with the words “The Finals.” He was whisked from obligation to obligation.
For a 24-year-old who was a neophyte to this stage, it was a dream come true.
“I just kind of revert it back to being a kid, watching the Finals every year growing up,” he said. “Every kid can imagine themselves being in the NBA and being in the Finals. But actually living out your dream in real time is a surreal feeling. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself.”
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The Warriors‘ superstars experienced NBA Finals Media Day very differently.
In fact, Green said he’s something of “an old head” now, which he has lately become acutely aware of after spending time with 19-year-old teammate Jonathan Kuminga.
“He looks at me like I might look at a 55-year-old man …” Green said.
The Warriors are the dynasty of the past decade.
Curry is the guy children emulate when they shoot hoops in their driveway, yelling his name as they airball 50-footers. Green is the guy coaches point to when they want to illustrate how far defense, rebounding and hustling can take you. Thompson is the chill sharpshooter everyone wants to become, the guy who is cooler than cool.
But to a certain extent, the Warriors see themselves in the young Celtics, who have reached their first Finals since 2010.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr sees Green’s tenacity and intelligence in Marcus Smart, who won Defensive Player of the Year this season.
And he sees the Celtics’ success in replicating his team’s approach of drafting players with great potential (Smart in 2014, Jaylen Brown in 2016 and Tatum in 2017), developing them and sticking with them. Or, in other words, demonstrating a patience that’s rare in today’s league.
Let’s not forget where the Warriors were just a short while ago.
Curry was hardly pegged as the NBA’s next superstar when the Warriors picked him seventh overall in 2009. Even fewer thought Thompson would develop into a five-time All-Star after being selected No. 11 in 2011. No one thought Green would become the league’s paragon of defense following his draft-day fall to No. 35 in 2012.
But they all bought in and turned into the best possible versions of themselves — and now a similar phenomenon is happening with the Celtics’ stars.
“I think they are pretty much the age we were back then, in their mid 20s,” Thompson said, referring to when the Warriors won their first title in 2015. “You have to give that organization credit. I feel like Brown and Tatum and Smart have been there for 10 years already. They worked hard to get here, just like we did. We respect them, and they present unique challenges to us.”
The Celtics had an amazing turnaround this season. They were in 11th place in the East as late as Jan. 16, but they refused to fracture.
When pundits said it was time to take drastic measures and split up young stars Tatum and Brown, the team responded by becoming closer. When pundits questioned whether coach Ime Udoka was the right fit, the Celtics responded by winning 26 of their final 32 games, finishing with the best defensive rating in the league.
“I’m sure not many people thought we would have gotten to this point,” Tatum said. “But there was always a sense of belief between us and the group that we were capable of figuring it out.”
Now, they’re going to go up against the team with the best offensive rating this postseason.
For Tatum, it’s all a trip.
He distinctly remembers being a junior in high school glued to the television as the Warriors won it all seven years ago. Now, he’s leading his team against them on the ultimate stage in basketball.
There’s also great mystique in playing against Boston for the Warriors, who grew up in awe of the storied franchise’s lore.
Thompson, whose father, Mychal, won two championships with the “Showtime” Lakers in 1987 and ’88, remembers his boyhood team losing to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals and then playing them again on that stage two years later.
“I was watching them in college, Game 7 at Staples with my dad in 2010,” Thompson said. “And now it’s 12 years later, and I get to play the team that I was rooting against. But it’s amazing.”
Even Kerr recalls being awestruck by the Celtics early in his playing career, when he started in a game while some of his teammates were injured.
“Larry Bird actually said, ‘Good luck, Steve,’” he recalled. “I was like, ‘You, too, Larry.’ I was like, ‘What is happening right now?'”
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Now, the Celtics are on the road back to greatness again. Everyone on the team pours themselves into defense. Everyone is hungry. And everyone wants to prove that they belong.
The new heads are coming. All that’s standing in their way are the old heads, who embody everything they hope to become.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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