SAN FRANCISCO — The stage was set perfectly for Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum to kill two birds with one stone.
Tatum, who ran out of gas during Boston’s 2022 NBA Finals loss, entered Saturday’s rematch with the Golden State Warriors as a leading MVP candidate. The Celtics boasted the league’s best record, point differential and offense, while the wobbly Warriors have struggled to maintain a winning record.
To make matters worse for the defending champions, Andrew Wiggins, their best perimeter defender, wouldn’t be able to hound Tatum because he was sidelined with an adductor injury. Warriors Coach Steve Kerr seemed to be bracing for the worst before tip-off, lavishing praise on the Celtics and saying they “have been invincible to this point.”
This was Tatum’s chance to move past the memories of his poor shooting and sloppy ballhandling in June and to make his MVP case on ABC’s first Saturday prime-time broadcast of the season.
But in an underwhelming performance that saw him outplayed by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as well as teammate Jaylen Brown, during Golden State’s 123-107 runaway victory at Chase Center, Tatum succeeded only in resurrecting the doubts that accumulated during Boston’s Finals collapse.
MVP voters should consider a candidate’s entire body of work, rather than judging him on his best day or worst day. And Tatum, who is averaging 30 points, 8.1 rebounds and four assists, correctly pointed out he has played “great” in 24 of Boston’s 27 games.
Even so, Tatum’s play was badly lacking throughout this rare off night. Two quick fouls forced him to the bench midway through the first quarter, and he eventually finished with 18 points on 6-for-21 shooting. Boston was outscored by 13 points in his 40 minutes, he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, and he missed a pair of crucial free throws with five minutes remaining that stunted a rally attempt.
“I’ve just got to be better,” Tatum said. “I missed a lot of layups, missed some open threes. There’s nobody to blame but myself. I’ve got to be better to help the team win. It’s not anything on the coaches or anything like that.”
Another indisputable example of Tatum being unable to perform to his typical standard against the Warriors: Over his past nine games against Golden State, dating from the start of the 2021-22 season and including the Finals, Tatum has shot 65 for 176 (36.9 percent) and has failed to score more than 28 points in a game.
As Tatum clanked contested jumpers and missed bunnies, Curry cruised to 32 points, six rebounds and seven assists in an encore to his scintillating Finals MVP run. To close the first quarter, Curry drilled a 32-foot rainbow three-pointer, turning his back to the hoop and jogging toward the other end of the court before the ball had swished through the net. The two superstars presented starkly different personalities as the Warriors built a 20-point lead: Calm Curry savored having nothing left to prove thanks to his four championship rings, but timid Tatum fumbled over how to climb the last few rungs on the ladder to true greatness.
Boston followed Tatum’s shaky lead, shooting just 12 for 40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc, well off the league-leading 40 percent clip it had posted entering Saturday. Without Al Horford, who is in the NBA’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, and Robert Williams III, who is nearing a return from offseason knee surgery, the Celtics’ defense was picked apart in the paint. Boston also committed 10 turnovers and struggled to get back in transition as Golden State dictated the tempo thanks to a big night from Thompson, who poured in a game-high 34 points and shadowed Tatum defensively.
“[The Warriors] are a good team,” Tatum said. “Obviously, we’ve got some history with them. They make it tough on you. … They just did a good job of keeping us in front of them, slowing us down. Offensively, we didn’t play with as much pace as we normally have. They kind of had us stagnant.”
While Tatum’s even-keeled nature is typically viewed as a virtue given his night-to-night consistency, greater intensity and forcefulness are needed on nights such as this. Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green were all revved up to play the Celtics, while Tatum spent long stretches out of the flow or looking indecisive.
Afterward, Tatum said the Finals rematch was “probably more meaningful to you [media] guys than it was to us” and the loss “is not going to dictate our season.”
Yet Brown, who scored a team-high 31 points, offered a more revealing view, admitting that the Celtics looked “a little tense” and played “like we had [the Warriors] circled … for a long time instead of just playing our game.”
Both things can be true. The media and fans tend to overreact to high-profile games that don’t actually decide a team’s fate, and the Celtics never looked truly comfortable during their most anticipated game of the season. Tatum is smart to make the first point, but he should meditate on the second.
The Celtics could easily rack up 60-plus wins, and Tatum’s dud Saturday will be long forgotten by MVP voters if they do.
To win the title, though, Boston probably will need to get past the Milwaukee Bucks, who were without all-star forward Khris Middleton in last year’s playoffs. And despite Golden State’s slow start, the Celtics could easily draw the Warriors again in the Finals, where the pressure would be squarely on Tatum to deliver in a way he couldn’t last year.
It’s this simple: The NBA’s best team, on paper, needs more from its best player in the biggest moments.
Sign up for our weekly NBA newsletter to get the best basketball coverage in your inbox
[Video] Youtube How Curry, Klay Thompson & Warriors stifled Tatum, Celtics in NBA Finals rematch | Hoops Tonight
Jason Timpf reacts to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the Golden State Warriors’ 123-107 win over Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics. Jason breaks down how Steph and Klay were able to dominate the Celtics, why the Warriors should be title favorites, and how the Jayson Tatum and the Celtics continue to struggle with high pressure situations.
Bet with us at FanDuel Sportsbook:
00:00 – Introduction
00:50 – Why the Celtics have more to prove
04:20 – Klay Thompson’s big night
08:59 – Warriors forced Celtics into bad decisions
13:14 – Steph Curry & Klay Thompson lead Warriors over Celtics
17:16 – Jayson Tatum struggles
Follow Jason: https://twitter.com/_JasonLT
Download the Action Network app:
Shop the hottest gear in all of sports podcasting: https://thevolume.com/shop-all-new
Subscribe to our newsletter: https://bit.ly/SubscribeToTheVolumeEmailNewsletter
Follow us on social media:
Tweets by TheVolumeSports
Learn more about the Volume:
#nba #warriors #stephencurry #goldenstatewarriors #bostonceltics #celtics