Saturday, May 13, 2023

Jayson Tatum snaps out of Game 6 slump to save Celtics season

It was better late than never for Jayson Tatum, as he broke out of his worst in-game shooting slump to save the Celtics season Thursday night.

With Boston trailing 83-81 with 5:57 left to play and on the brink of being eliminated in the second-round of the playoffs, the All-NBA forward hit a go-head 3-pointer (his first in seven tries), sparking a 14-3 run and scoring his final 12 points during that span to secure a 95-86 victory over the 76ers in Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tatum, who a year ago dropped 46 points in an elimination game of the East semis on the road to beat the Milwaukee Bucks and force Game 7, this time around the All-Star was an atrocious 5-of-21 from the field -- including connecting on only one of his first 15 shot attempts (0-of-6 from deep) entering the final frame.
"I kept looking at the time," Tatum said in his postgame presser. "I've got time, I've got time to make a difference. I believed that the whole time."
The end result was 19 points on 4-of-11 shooting from behind the arc for Tatum, while hitting all four of his treys in the final four minutes, giving the C's another chance to defend their home floor in a Game 7 with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals (potentially their fifth in seven years) on the line.
"Humbly, [I'm] one of the best basketball players in the world," Tatum said in his interview with ESPN immediately following the win. "Go through struggles, go through slumps, but it's a long game."
Tatum outscored Philly 16-13 in the fourth quarter, as the home team missed 15 of 20 shots and all eight 3-point attempts. But before Tatum's knockout punch, it was Celtics veterans like Marcus Smart (22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Malcolm Brogdon (4-of-6 from 3-point range), and Robert Williams (10 points, nine rebounds) that allowed Boston to keep fighting to begin with.
"Thankful I've got some great teammates that held it down. Brogdon, [Jaylen Brown], Smart, Al [Horford]. And they all trusted me," Tatum said on ESPN's broadcast. "They told me to keep taking great looks, it's going to fall. Keeping impacting the game in other ways. And all that matters is we won this game. Give ourselves another chance to come back home for a Game 7."
Besides Tatum late-game offense -- which according to OptaSTATS, became the first player in the last 20 years to have three or fewer points through the first three quarters of a playoff game and outscore the entire opposing team in the last period of play -- the Celtics star also recorded nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.
"I said some stuff to him. 'Keep going, I believe in you,'" Jaylen Brown said during his postgame comments of Tatum's performance. "Whoever was on him, I was telling him, 'They can't guard you. Stop being apprehensive and just go.' If you ask him, he'd probably say that's exactly how I drew it up, right? It doesn't have to be pretty. Just got to get it done."
While Tatum was able to snap out of his shooting woes in Game 6, he would prefer not to repeat that start come Sunday in a win or go home circumstance once again, especially since the veteran is shooting a whooping 4-of-30 in the first half against the 76ers so far.
"He's our guy, through thick and thin and he's proven that he's reliable in those moments," Malcolm Brogdon said to reporters. "He's a superstar so he's going to make shots when we need him to make shots."
Still, Tatum won't shy away from the moment in a do-or-die Game 7 at TD Garden, despite knowing his teammates have his back regardless of how he comes out of the gate.
"It's Game 7," Tatum said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
Celtics and Sixers will do battle in a Mother's Day Sunday afternoon matinee, with ABC having the tip-off at 3:30 ET. 

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of The New York Times

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