At NBA Finals media day on Wednesday, Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka was asked about his team’s struggles finishing around the rim, one of the many flaws to the Celtics offense during the NBA Finals. In Monday’s 104-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Boston finished 16-of-34 (47 percent) in the paint.
Jayson Tatum is at the center of this problem, not just for the last game, but for the entire NBA Finals. In matter of fact, he’s shooting better from beyond the arc than inside it. To this point, Tatum has made 19 3-pointers and 19 2-pointers. He’s 19-of-40 (47.5 percent) on 3’s and 19-of-65 (29 percent) on 2’s.
“Some of our drives haven’t been as physical as other times,” Udoka said. “That’s an emphasis with us. I’ve mentioned hunting, looking for fouls instead of going up to finish. Their rotations are pretty direct every time. The guy is going to be there. It’s just about making the read.”
It doesn’t feel like much of a secret that Tatum is the main player Udoka is talking about. Even with Tatum hunting fouls when going to the paint, the most free throws he’s taken in a game this series is nine. Not to mention he is shooting 64 percent on the 6.4 average free throws per game he attempts. This comes after shooting 85 percent on eight attempts in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the Finals, Tatum is averaging his least amount of points (23.2) and worst field goal percentage (36.7 percent) of any playoff series this postseason.
“With Golden State specifically, they are trying to take [Tatum] out at certain times of the game,” Udoka said. “But it’s on him to read that and us to put him in positions where, understanding he’s going to be doubled and be the bait at times, get everybody else involved. We have to make them pay as far as that.”
In the two games Boston won, Tatum finished with 13 and nine assists. His assist-to-turnover ratio in wins is 5.5, in losses it’s 0.9. That’s 13 assists and 14 turnovers in losses.
Even in Game 1 when Tatum couldn’t score, his facilitating was a major reason as to why the Celtics had so much offensive success, which they’ve severely lacked for large amounts of time. While it’s obviously helpful, Tatum doesn’t necessarily need to score at a high rate to defeat the Warriors.
If he can either finish in the paint or limit his turnovers (his 95 are the most by any player in a single postseason of all time) and get everyone else involved, Boston can win and potentially steal Game 7 on the road. While it’s far fetched it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.
Tipoff for Game 6 Thursday night is at 9 p.m., it can be watched on ABC. Listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub radio, where Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell start pregame coverage at 8:30.