BOSTON. Just over a minute left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Celtics coach Ime Udoka pulled the starters. This means Jason Tatum there was a moment to sit alone and feel the weight of the disappointment that came with defeat.
“It hurts,” Tatum said. “Being in this group, we overcame difficulties during the season to get to this point. Just knowing how much we wanted it didn’t work out. It’s a terrible feeling.”
As he spoke, he lowered his head, looking at the table at which he sat.
Minutes before, Tatum had endured the humiliation of watching another team, Golden State. celebrate winning a championship at your home court. He politely congratulated his opponents and then left with a blank expression. When the fan came down from the stands and grabbed the towel from his shoulders, Tatum didn’t even react.
He was not at his best during the Finals, often being defended by Golden State players. Andrew Wiggins. In the deciding game, Tatum scored just 13 points with 7 assists and 3 rebounds, while making 5 assists. This ended a difficult series in which he struggled to find rhythm in attack. At 24 he foundational part of Boston’s young coreand this could be his moment.
On June 1, the day before the finals began, Tatum went to the media and said he wanted to be honest.
“There were times when I wondered if I was the right person to lead such a group,” he said. “You know, I never doubted myself, but only moments after some of those defeats and more difficult periods of the season. It’s human nature to question yourself.”
He said it was important to “always stick to what you believe in and trust in the work you’ve done.”
Then he continued.
“You know, it can’t rain forever.”
The Celtics got off to a rocky start, losing the first two games and losing 19 more by early January. They were 18-21 years old and looked like they were destined to play early in the offseason. But led by Tatum, they changed the situation. They broke through in the second half of the season and finished second in the East.
The postseason looked like a huge challenge, but Tatum’s Celtics, the league’s hottest team, could rise to the occasion. In the end, they didn’t get it.
“One thing he always did throughout the season was to watch a few different reports and figure it out,” Udoka said. “He did it for the first few episodes. This one was rough. A very consistent team that did some things to limit it and make others pay.
“For him, it just keeps growing and realizing that you will see this for the rest of your career. This is just the beginning. “
Tatum already has a remarkable resume. He has been named an NBA All-Star for the past three seasons. He was also named to the All-NBA First Team that year. For his game against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Tatum was named an Eastern Conference finalist. Most Valuable Player Award.
In the regular season, he averaged 26.9 points per game and only 2.9 assists per game. His turnover rates were lower than most players with better scoring averages than him.
When asked what the Celtics need to improve, Tatum said, “I think it’s just our level of composure throughout this series and previous series, myself included. Taking care of the ball and the like.”
For the Celtics as a whole, losses were a problem during the Finals. Boston lost the last three games of the series, throwing 15 turnovers in Game 4, 18 more in Game 5, and a painful 22 losses in Game 6. Golden State also had moments of sloppiness, but they responded with enough poise to recover.
“It’s easy to look back and see everything that could have been done better,” Tatum said. “We’re tired. I know that for sure.”
To single out Tatum’s attack would be to miss some context in a show that had a defensive focus. Boston failed to score 100 points after Game 3. The Celtics held Golden State with 104.8 points per game, below the regular season average of 111 points per game.
Tatum was also able to make an impact by not scoring at the start of the series. The Celtics scored 120 points in game 1, their highest scoring game in the final. Tatum added only 12 points. Golden State defenders made Tatum uncomfortable whether he was trying to drive to the rim or shoot from the outside. Instead, he started looking for his teammates and made 13 passes.
But as the series progressed, Golden State began to take away other options from him and made Boston pay for their mistakes.
From games 2 to 5, Tatum averaged 26 points per game but struggled to make a significant showing, especially as the stakes rose.
It was a departure from earlier in the playoffs. When Celtics eliminated in Game 6 In the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Tatum scored 46 points with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. In that game, he shot 53.1 percent from the field.
It was a feat he couldn’t come close to match with Golden State. There were even times during the Finals when Tatum seemed hesitant to take the shot if it was there for him, choosing instead to seek out teammates. He also struggled to finish at the rim.
“We could all do better,” Tatum said. “I feel like a lot of things could have been done better.”
Tatum injured his right shoulder during the Eastern Conference Finals, but did not link his struggle to the injury. He was asked if he needed surgery and said he didn’t think he would.
Rather dejected after coming so close to winning his first championship, Tatum spoke only in general terms about the need for improvement and how difficult the night had been.
His teammates offered support.
“Just hugged him, man,” Jaylen Brown of Boston said. “I know it was a tough last game. I know, obviously, it was a game that we felt we could win.”
His coach also had words of encouragement.
“The growth he’s shown as a playmaker this year and in some areas, I think that’s the next step for him,” said Udoka. “Find it out, get to where some of the veterans are who saw it all and took their pieces early in their careers.”
He added: “High IQ, smart guy who will learn from this and figure it all out. I think it will push him to go forward, definitely motivates.”