BOSTON (AP) — Jayson Tatum knows he’s taken his game to a new level in his fifth NBA season and carved his way into the top league of playmakers as the Boston Celtics’ top scorer.
The three-time All-Star also knows he wasn’t good enough at times against the Golden State Warriors during the NBA Finals and will need to find a way to up his game if he hopes to help Boston win its 18th championship to win a franchise.
He doesn’t mind the limelight or the stress that comes with it.
“I just have to get better,” Tatum said after Golden State’s 107-97 win in Game 4 on Friday night to level the streak. “I know I can be better, so it’s not like I, myself or my team are asking me to do something I’m not capable of. They know the level and I know the level I can play at.”
The Celtics had an opportunity to take a comfortable 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals and plunge the Warriors into a hole only one team has ever dug out of in 36 attempts – the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, who advanced from 3rd to 3rd place :1 rallied to beat Golden State seven games.
Instead, Boston went collectively cold late in the fourth quarter as the Warriors’ Stephen Curry put the finishing touches on what might be his signature playoff moment before a stunned TD Garden crowd.
Tatum tried, but this time he couldn’t match Curry’s dominance.
He finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. But Tatum had his second-worst shooting performance of the series – just 8 of 23 from the field – and didn’t care for the ball; He had six of Boston’s 16 turnovers that resulted in 19 Golden State points.
He was also virtually a non-factor in the last quarter, scoring just three points on 1 of 5 shots with a rally. It hurt the most after the Celtics took a 94-90 lead only to miss their six shots during a 10-0 Warriors run.
Boston never led again.
Just as Tatum has gone, so have the Celtics gone in this series.
In the Celtics’ two wins, he has averaged 27 points and shot 45% from the field. With their two losses, those numbers drop to 22 points per game and 34% from the field.
Boston coach Ime Udoka said part of the problem he sees is Tatum starting to force things that aren’t there when his shots aren’t going in.
“Sometimes he looks for fouls. They are a team that charges in certain games. He finds the outlets. Shooting over two, three guys,” said Udoka. “That’s the balance between being aggressive and picking your pitches and doing what he’s done in previous games, which is kicking out and getting wide-open looks.”
The Warriors did many of the same things they’ve done against him in all series – sending multiple defenders and switching different players in 1-on-1 situations against him.
Tatum believes his troubles stem from being stuck in a ball-watching trap.
“We’ve all done it. We just have to move,” he said. “I think we’re most effective when everyone moves.”
In Game 1, Tatum shot a paltry 3 of 17 from the field but was able to create shots for his teammates, penetrating and passing doubles teams.
He seemed rushed at times during Friday’s defeat and was never able to find a rhythm in the second half because of his turnovers.
That was true whether he was attempting jump shots or in the suit, where he had five missed attempts and seemed frustrated with non-foul calls.
“If I have space, I’m open, I have to take the shot,” Tatum said. “Obviously they charge up every time I hold them too long and things like that. I only think quick decisions, don’t turn down open looks, no daylight I have, just keep trying to make the right pass.
Point guard Marcus Smart said the strongest message he and his teammates keep delivering to Tatum is that they have complete confidence he will emerge from this.
“We just keep letting him know we’re moving on,” Smart said. “‘This isn’t the first time you’ve been in a crisis. Won’t be the last time. You have to find out. We trust you, we believe in you. That’s what you were made for.” Jayson needs to find out. We have to help him well.”
Tatum takes on the challenge of finding his best basketball.
“It’s up to me to do that most of the time just to help my team the best I can,” he said. “It’s not too much pressure at all. It’s like my job.”
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