The Warriors are one win away from securing their fourth NBA title in eight seasons, and a big reason for that was their ability to contain Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum.
Golden State’s defense essentially neutralized Tatum during those NBA Finals, keeping the star off the field on a 37.3 shot percentage in five games.
Prior to Game 5, Tatum’s 34.1 shooting percentage in the Finals was the lowest of any player with at least 20 attempts in series history.
However, when the Warriors took a three-game-to-two lead with their 104-94 win Monday night, Tatum finished the Finals with his highest shooting rate yet (50 percent), going 5-for-9 from behind 3-point line.
Despite this, he continued to struggle late into the game, averaging 3.2 points, 1.8 assists and 0.8 rebounds in the fourth quarter of the finals. And as Game 5 showed, this isn’t a good time to stop production. But the Warriors want it to stay that way.
While Tatum was sinking his shots at a much higher rate in Game 5, Celtics coach Ime Udoka believes there is still room for improvement for the 24-year-old as Boston look to salvage its season in Game 6 on Thursday at the TD Garden . And when he’s not shooting, Udoka believes his skills can be used to distract the Golden State’s defenders from Boston’s other offensive threats.
“I would say we don’t just rate him on how he plays, but on how he plays in general,” Udoka told reporters after Wednesday’s practice session. “From a goals perspective, at times throughout this series, not just in the fourth quarter, he’s missed some things that he normally does.
“But we want him to be aggressive and find that balance like he’s done all year. At Golden State specifically, they try to turn him off at certain times of the game. But it’s up to him to read this and us to put him in positions where he understands he’s doubling down and will at times be the bait to involve everyone else. So far we have to make them pay.”
Udoka doesn’t think Tatum’s struggles in the fourth quarter are any worse than those he experienced in the other quarters of the finals. It’s all about reading Golden State’s coverage properly, he said. Protecting the three-time NBA All-Star and 2022 All-NBA First Team pick is no easy feat, but the Warriors made it look like it.
Of course, there were some distractions for Tatum in the fourth quarter on Monday. The Celtics struggled with umpires in Game 5 and were visibly frustrated on the court, and a strange incident between Tatum and Draymond Green led to the pair getting into a confrontation over basketball during a time-out.
“… Guys will be who they are and deal with it how they find it best,” Udoka said of the incident on Wednesday. “Some people, like I said, go into it. Some ignore it. To each their own, as far as that… You either use it or you don’t. Doesn’t bother me at all.”
Udoka may not know if the incident involving Green Tatum’s play on the pitch will affect the series, but the young forward turned up ball in hand for Wednesday’s press conference and poked fun at the Warriors veteran with reporters.
With a firm grip on the basketball, Tatum reflected on the tough task Boston has ahead of him and how to overcome his crunch-time shooting problems against a tough Golden State defense. But after running the NBA playoff gauntlet through the Eastern Conference to get here, the Tatum and Celtics feel well prepared to force a Game 7.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re a great team,” Tatum told reporters. “They present different challenges than Milwaukee [Bucks] and Miami [Heat]. I think that’s just part of the playoffs, adjusting to different teams and the different challenges they present. You have to adapt pretty quickly when moving from series to series.
“It’s no different. So it’s still a challenge. It’s just different than playing in Milwaukee and Miami.”
RELATED: Tatum explains strange interaction with Draymond in Game 5
The Warriors are certainly not the Bucks or the Heat, and Boston will have its work cut out when the team speaks Thursday night.
Only one game separates Golden State from another championship ring, and Dub Nation knows the team may be at their best when the pressure mounts.
How Tatum reacts will be key to the Celtics’ own title hopes.
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