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Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 11: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates a basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2023 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on May 11, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

You probably clicked this link because Jayson Tatum’s up-and-down Game 6 last night put your brain in a blender. You’re not sure what to make of such a polarizing performance, and came here looking for answers.

Sorry, you’re not going to find them. Because they simply don’t exist.

  • Let’s just reset for a second and spell out the game story directly – because it’s easy to lose track of. Tatum shot 1-of-13 from the floor for a total of three points through the first three quarters, then single-handedly outscored the Philadelphia 76ers 16-13 in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-of-8 including a number of contested threes late. With his boost, the Celtics won the game 95-86 to force a Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday. He finished with 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting with a 4-of-11 mark from three, while adding nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and two steals.

    In the immediate aftermath of the game, people attempted to qualify the performance or compare it to past games for perspective. The problem? That may be an impossible task. Tatum’s disappearing act followed by his game-saving rally late certainly don’t have company in the NBA.

    According to the sports technology outlet Stats Perform, Tatum became the only player in the NBA in at least the last 20 years to have 3 or fewer points through three quarters of a playoff game and then proceed to outscore the entire opposing team in the fourth quarter.

    A true one-of-one performance.

  • How did Tatum pull it off? Confidence seemed to be a big part of it. “I’m one of – humbly – one of the best basketball players in the world. Go through struggles, go through slumps. It’s a long game. Thankfully I have some teammates to hold me down,” Tatum told ESPN after the game. “All that mattered was to win this game.”

    The last part of his answer may be the answer to our question – what to make of Tatum’s overall performance? Well, the Celtics won and he was a big part of the win (eventually), so it’s probably a positive.

    Still, that’s a very dangerous game to play. This time the Celtics were able to pull out the win, but that hasn’t consistently been the case. Tatum has now started slow in each of the last three games. In the first quarter of those three games he’s scored a combined three points, and has missed his last 19 (and counting) first quarter field goals. Despite valiant comeback efforts in Games 4 and 5 – when he arguably played more complete games than he did in Game 6 – the Celtics still lost.

  • Clearly, the Celtics can find a way to win with Tatum not showing up for the first 12, 24, or 36 minutes. We saw what that looks like Thursday night. But they shouldn’t – and really can’t – afford to make it a habit.

    It worked once, but good teams won’t let them get away with it regularly. Whether we’re talking about the goal of bringing Banner 18 to Boston, or just knocking off the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, Tatum can’t keep waiting until the absolute second to show up and win the game. More often than not that hasn’t worked. What he did on Thursday night was a one-of-one performance. Nobody – Tatum included no matter how confident he is – should be counting on seconds.

    So, if we’re going to attempt to answer that opening question of what to make of Tatum’s performance? Appreciate it for what it was – and hope we never see anything like it again.

  • 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.

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