How Jayson Tatum impacted Game 1 despite an off scoring night
In terms of his shooting performance, Jayson Tatum’s NBA Finals debut likely didn’t go the way he’d imagined. In 42 minutes on the floor, Tatum scored just 12 points while shooting 3-of-17 from the floor and 1-of-5 from deep. However, that shooting performance hardly kept Tatum from impacting the game. He made his presence felt in other ways.
Tatum was named to the All-NBA First Team last month. When asked what he thought was the biggest change in his game that elevated him to that position, the 24-year-old cited his playmaking ability. Well, that skill set was on full display on the biggest stage in Game 1. Thursday night, Tatum recorded 13 assists – setting a new record for the most by a player in their first NBA Finals game. Those assists led to 35 Celtics points.
On top of that, Tatum turned the ball over just twice. Turnovers have been an issue for Tatum in the playoffs overall – he’s averaged 4.3 per game after averaging 2.9 per game in the regular season. But Thursday night, he was totally in control. He finished the game with a plus-16 rating, including a monstrous plus-27 in the fourth quarter.
So, how did Tatum feel about his overall performance after the game? Pretty good, considering the team’s performance.
“Ecstatic, right? 40 points in the fourth quarter? J.B. [Jaylen Brown] played big. Al [Horford], Payton [Pritchard], [Derrick] D-White. Those guys made big shots, timely shots as well,” he noted. “And we won, right? I had a bad shooting night. I just tried to impact the game in other ways. We’re in the championship. We’re in the Finals. All I was worried about was trying to get a win, and we did. That’s all that matters at this point. So I don’t expect to shoot that bad again. But if it means we keep winning, I’ll take it.”
Perhaps Tatum’s biggest point of growth in this game was the way he handled help defenders blitzing him and full-on double teams. The Miami Heat started throwing those looks at Tatum often late in the Eastern Conference Finals, and at times he seemed overwhelmed by the pressure. That wasn’t the case in Game 1 of the Finals, as he regularly found the open player in situations where a second defender started closing in on him.
After the game, Tatum was asked if there was anything specific the Warriors were doing that helped him have success moving the ball in those situations. “Just reading the play,” he said. “They do a great job of helping and things like that. So, you know, obviously it’s just as simple as if you draw two, find somebody that’s open. That’s what I was just trying to do.”
According to head coach Ime Udoka, Tatum’s Game 1 performance is something he’s been working on all season. “We’ve talked about it throughout the year and I’ve talked to him at length about impacting the game when he’s not having his best offensive night,” Udoka said after the game. “He did that tonight. Obviously going 3-17, that’s usually not going to happen. What he did well and did early was get others involved. 7 of 9 assists pretty early in the game, finished with 13, and the shots not falling, he still attracts a good amount of attention, made the right plays.
“I love his growth and progression in those areas, where he’s still guarding on the defensive end, still getting others involved, not pouting about his shots, and trying to play through some mistakes and physicality they were playing with him,” Udoka continued. “When they went a box-and-one on him to try to take him out, it made it tough at times, but that’s why we’re a team. We don’t rely on one guy. You saw others step up tonight.”
The next step for Tatum and the Celtics is seeing how the Warriors adjust to his improved playmaking, and what adjustments they’ll make. Will they double Tatum less, giving him more of the one-on-one opportunities where he’s so impactful? Will they continue to force the ball out of his hands, creating more chances for the Celtics’ other scorers? They’ll have two days to figure it out before the teams return to play for Game 2 on Sunday night. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m., with pregame coverage beginning at 7:30 on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.
PHOTOS: Celtics battle Warriors in Game 1 of 2022 NBA Finals
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.
More Celtics coverage from 985TheSportsHub.com…
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at email@example.com.