Boston Celtics

Situational offense was the primary issue for the Celtics in Friday night’s 117-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. When it got to crunch time, the team struggled – they scored just three points in the final 5:18 of the game and found themselves on the wrong side of a 17-3 run to close things out.

In that span the Celtics shot 1-of-8 from the field with seven of those shots – including the make – coming from three point range. They also didn’t get to the free throw line once in that window. Following the game, head coach Ime Udoka was asked about his team’s struggles in the fourth quarter.

“Offensively, stalled out a little bit,” he explained. “We did get some good shots off, but we would like to get a little bit more downhill and get some things to the rim and kick out. Credit to them. They stepped up defensively when it counted. Our offense wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be, no doubt.”

“We had plenty of opportunities, obviously. Every time we got a five-, six-point lead, it felt like we made some poor decisions, whether it was rushed shots in traffic or, to your point, standing around and looking at each other a little bit there,” Udoka continued, speaking on the game as a whole. In total, Game 4 saw 11 lead changes and 10 ties, with neither team leading by double digits until the Warriors’ final basket.

“Not sure if we tried to pick on mismatches too much. Got stalled out a little bit. When we did run off-ball actions and got some movement, we got some really good looks,” Udoka added. “We wanted to get the ball up quick and get into an offense. If we don’t have anything, still make them work the clock. A lot of times it felt like we were standing around, unsure of who we were trying to go after, and it led to those stalled-down possessions.”

At the center of all of those issues was Jayson Tatum. Although Tatum’s overall numbers on the night – 23 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks – look good, he didn’t make an impact when the team needed him most. He shot 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter, and took just one shot attempt over the final 6:09 of the game despite playing the entire 4th quarter. After the game, Udoka was asked if there’s anything the team can do to get Tatum specifically into a groove.

“What I would say is don’t be opposed to taking twos. Some pull-up jumpers, some of those things, instead of going all the way to the rim. It doesn’t have to be either/or as far as that,” Udoka noted. “We talked about the balance, how much we rely on him to score and get other guys involved. Sometimes that balance leads to taking some shots or over-penetrating when he has a clean pull-up or two. Nothing wrong with the floater, mid-range pull-up to get yourself going, especially when the crowd is sitting there at the rim.”

Finishing at the rim has been an issue for Tatum throughout the Finals. Including Game 4, he’s hit nine of 17 shot attempts inside the restricted area, and is 14-of-51 (27.5 percent) on all two-point shots.

“At times he’s looking for fouls,” Udoka replied when asked about those issues. “They are a team that loads up in certain games. He’s finding the outlets. Shooting over two, three guys. That’s the balance of being aggressive and picking your spots and doing what he’s done in previous games, which is kicked it out and got wide-open looks. That’s the ongoing theme so to speak, him getting to the basket, being a scorer as well as a playmaker. They do a good job with their rotations. Sometimes hunting fouls instead of going to finish. I’ve seen that in a few games so far.”

As Steph Curry made clear with his 43-point performance in Game 4, a superstar takeover can be enough to win a team a game. While the Celtics may not need that kind of complete performance given their scoring depth, there are times where Tatum having that kind of takeover mentality would help cover up other issues on the floor. Can he make the adjustments to have more of an impact as the series enters its latter stages? Game 5 tips off Monday night in Golden State at 9 p.m. with coverage beginning at 8:30 on 98.5 The Sports Hub and the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.