For much of their Eastern Conference semifinal game, the Bucks kept Celtics star Jayson Tatum out, culminating in a 4-for-19 performance in Game 3 that left Tatum deeply frustrated with him. -same.
“I was really looking forward to coming back and ready to play,” Tatum said on Monday. “Whether it’s to score or not, just go out and play better at both ends of the pitch. …
“So I was really looking forward to the game starting after the third game.”
Tatum didn’t follow his career-worst playoff performance in Game 3 with a LeBron-James-in-Game-6 masterpiece – 45 points, 15 rebounds and five of 73.1 assists shots – but he lost 30 points on 24 shots.
Importantly, Tatum saved his evening in the fourth quarter as the Celtics rallied from seven points to claim a 116-108 victory with 12 points on 5-on-6 shooting as well as two assists – both part of the Al Horford’s dam of 3-pointers. In other words, he contributed to 18 of the Celtics’ 43 points in the fourth quarter, all of which were much-needed.
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“We found actions that we liked for him and then isolations where we don’t always bring the screen, we think he can beat his man,” Ime Udoka said afterwards. “Give him a little more room to operate. He went down, got aggressive, and started knocking down 3s. He’s been doing that all year.
So what changed in the fourth? Predictably, Tatum started driving to the basket, then stepped forward from behind the arc to make a 3.
Tatum’s first shot of the game was a pick-and-roll 3, which might not even have hit the rim as he jumped off the backboard – a bad start. He then fled in transition for a huge dunk on Brook Lopez, rebounded into a midrange jumper and buried a 3-pointer. The pieces were falling into place for a big night.
The next four shots, however, were all 3-pointers and all missed – apparently less because of defense and more because his footwork never felt comfortable. He sprinkled a few more marks in the third but entered the icy fourth after missing four in a row.
The Celtics were down seven and circling the drain.
“We felt like we weren’t playing well, and despite all that, we were only seven behind to start the fourth,” Tatum said. “And that was the message – 12 minutes left, minus seven. Get it.
Horford got the first one and helped the Celtics level the score, but Tatum was just as instrumental in the final six minutes. With 6:15 remaining, he turned the corner on Wesley Matthews even though Al Horford missed the screen and collected a hotly contested lay-up that tied the game. A minute later he drove and sent Matthews straight into Pat Connaughton, and both players fell on Derrick White – a three-pin strike for Tatum, which scored the lay-up. On the next possession, the Bucks let George Hill pass to Tatum, who drove into Hill and finished over the foul.
A minute later, Tatum got up for three on Hill, who timed the contest perfectly but was too short to do anything about the shot.
“I still had 12 minutes left to put my mark on this game and try to help us win,” Tatum said. “I’m a big believer in right or wrong, no matter what, you can’t change it, even in a game. Everyone talks about the next game, the next quarter. I always believe that the next shot will go, and only my teammates believe in me. They want me to be aggressive and they believe I’m going to make the right play, and that’s what I was trying to do.
During the playoffs, a weird regular-season trend amplified: Tatum shoots extremely poorly on 3-point pick-and-roll attempts, but in isolation and scouting opportunities, he’s deadly. To that end, according to NBA stats, Tatum has an effective field goal percentage (a stat that factors in the added value of 3-pointers) of 56.8% in isolation since the start of the playoffs, and he scores a staggering 1.3 points per possession in spot-up opportunities.
The numbers go a bit further: on zero dribbling, Tatum shoots 56% from deep. On 7+ dribbles, he shoots 40% from behind the arc. Any other number of dribbles, and he was a disaster (7 for 31, 22.5%).
In other words, Tatum has been awesome from three takes and awesome when he does. stuff like that.
The game 5 counters will be fascinating. The Bucks now know that George Hill can’t switch Tatum (like, at all), so they’ll find something else when the Celtics force a change. Tatum now knows that Matthews – who blocked him in Game 3 – can’t always stay ahead if Tatum goes after him aggressively. Lopez and Antetokounmpo are a challenge at the rim, but a solvable one – especially if Robert Williams is back in the mix after sitting out in Game 4 with knee pain. The Bucks know they can win in Boston, but the Celtics have gone small and played well against the Bucks’ bigger groups.
Each playoff game is its own entity, but the Celtics may hold a schematic advantage in Game 5, especially since their superstar looked like a superstar again at a very opportune time.
Tatum didn’t rewrite his legacy in Game 4, but he and the Celtics kept serve, and now he has another chance to do so in Game 5.
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