Jayson Tatum and the Celtics no longer have answers

The 2022 NBA Finals has many compelling stories: Stephen Curry’s talent; Jaylen Brown’s juice and Robert Williams III’s inner intimidation; Andrew Wiggins’ redemption and the return of #StrengthInNumbers.This maximum The story of these Finals, however, is an offense led by the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum — its form, its function, and increasingly fractured, especially late in the game.

The Celtics won their first game after the avalanche in the fourth quarter — getting smaller, opening up space, and burying the Warriors with a barrage of 3s. Since then, however, Boston has been largely unable to produce a solid offense late in the game, failing to exceed 25 points in the fourth quarter of Games 2 through 5 and scoring only 100 possessions per 100 possessions in the final four games. 95.6 points — That’s an offense commensurate with the mid-range 76ers’ incompetence. Those struggles have pushed the Eastern Conference champions to the brink as they head home for Game 6 on Thursday, possibly 48 minutes from the end of the season.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Celtics big man Al Horford said after Game 5 on Monday. “This is when we stare at each other and we have to figure it out. We have a chance now. We have to figure it out. We don’t have a tomorrow.”

Boston’s defense, which far outstripped the NBA’s best defense in the regular season, performed mostly as advertised in the championship game. The Celtics have largely kept the Warriors under wraps, except for a Game 2 onslaught that reportedly put Curry and company down 0-2 at home, with every 100 in the halftime. Only 93.9 points per game clean glass; that would rank 21st in the league this season.

That meat grinder’s halfcourt defense — so good at switching off-ball screens, neutralizing Golden State’s split moves and backdoor cuts, taking airspace and essentially forcing Curry to be a superman to create points — allowed the Celtics The team has a chance to win every game. games in this series.As ever, the question is their ability Keep Halftime Game: Boston turned 17.2 percent of its offensive possessions in the Finals and gave up 20.6 points per game, both of which were near-worst points in history. During the NBA regular season.

C’s penchant for live ball turnovers — lollipops in, unplanned jumpers, daring attempts to thread in traffic — is especially damaging. Golden State had 49 steals in five games and scored nearly 1.5 points per offense, often turning Boston’s turnovers into layups or fouls:

Boston finished Game 5 with 18 turnovers — five for Brown, four each for Tatum and Marcus Smart.They gave the Warriors 22 points and a win over Golden State, continuing one of the clearest patterns and most compelling statistical leaders of this postseason: the Celtics now 1-7 when they turned the ball 16 or more times in these playoffs and 13-2 when they didn’t.

“If we don’t turn the ball over, we’re going to be hard to beat,” Tatum told reporters after Game 5. “Obviously when we turned the ball over we were easy to beat.”

Well, maybe not simplebut easier — when they combine those turnovers with the kind of shots that might score the same in the paint, they’re more vulnerable.

There’s a quieter headache when the Celtics miss a layup on a bad inside play or miss a layup on a catch-and-shoot in the corner and Golden State can grab a defensive rebound. Dubs has been looking for opportunities to address those turnovers, especially when several Celtics are below the free throw line and Boston’s floor is out of balance. They’ve found gains there, especially recently: According to Inpredictable, Golden State has averaged 1.12 points per possession starting with defensive rebounds in Games 4 and 5, a notable uptick in the first three games, and Huge help to sloping teams Offensive tide is in their favor.

That style of play – physical attack point defense, punctual and aggressive help at the rim, tough finishing, multiple 50/50 ball efforts, commitment to speed – is pretty much a good definition of “power” ,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and defensive totem Draymond Green’s favorite quote, you’ll get it. Golden State takes it out of the gate in Game 5, Boston Stuttered in the face of it, made two turnovers in the opening 5 minutes, went 2 for 8, and after putting them on 8 in the first half saw them score a dreadful 71.7 points per 100 at halftime, allowing Golden State is scoring an incredible two points per game (basically guaranteed) in transition.

The meandering becomes even more maddening when you look at the way Boston played in the third quarter – aggressive but composed, precise and well-spaced, breaking down individual defenders to dismantle the inside defense, then trusting the pass and making Create opportunities for others. With 35 points in the third quarter, Team C had seven assists on 11 shots and completely (if briefly) turned the game upside down with their execution:

“When we’re at our best, it’s simple ball play — I think the third quarter proved that,” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka said. “Beautiful kicks and kicks, effective, getting guys to shoot open…obviously, that’s always been an issue for us, in this series, especially in a quarter where we’ve been a bit stagnant. When we When done well, it works, it looks good, and we get the shots we want. [When] We slowed down, played in the crowd, and those turnovers popped up in a bad offense. “

Boston hasn’t been able to break those cycles — set everything down, run a set, create a nice look, and come up with a muffler to stop the run — in the last few games Proved to be costly.

“The guy with the ball needs to do the reading. It’s a tough job, but they have to figure out what’s wrong,” Horford said. “Outlets will be what they are. The defense will be what it is. Just for acting. It’s that simple.”

Golden State, a seasoned team in this arena, has more success keeping it simple. Even without his line-ups, Curry (8 assists and just one turnover in 37 minutes) dominated the game as a steady hand who knew how to pull two balls into the next game. The ball flows more freely; it looks easier.

While Smart has shown so much growth as a primary point guard, and despite Tatum and Brown developing so quickly as wing supports, the Celtics haven’t really had much in this series. That level of ball control. Without it, empty travel piles up and diverts; without it, as Brown put it after the game, “We’re looking around expecting someone to save us.”

That should be Tatum, who’s less than a month away from being named an All-NBA first-team forward and Eastern Conference Finals MVP, but he’s already — despite leading Kyle in points, rebounds and assists this game SPECIALS SERIES – Not enough assembly yet. The culprits are largely: turnover-prone — 18 in the Finals and 95 in the playoffs, the most for most players in any postseason since 1978 — and persistent Can’t convert inside the three-point line.

Tatum shot 19-for-40 (47.5 percent) from 3-point range, but was frustratingly 19-for-62 (30.6 percent) from 2-point range. Udoka has sometimes lamented his star’s preference for driving for contact rather than driving to score, which can lead to off-balance, low-percentage runners that have him piled on the baseline instead of finishing above the rim and trotting back to defense. He also struggled with the size, speed and determination of Wiggins, who allowed him to shoot 9-for-29 from the arc, according to NBA Advanced Stats.

When Tatum was able to get away from the Canadians, he was more successful with overhead shots from smaller Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, and worked hard to attack Curry in pick-and-rolls and isolations. For the most part, though, he struggled to find the light against Golden State’s defense, which both walled in front of the rim and provided extra help when he turned the corner:

In Game 5, he shot just 3 of 8 in the paint, including missing all three inside attempts in the fourth quarter, and Tatum said he was happy with the look he got. He “just needs to make more stuff.” He added that may require getting his legs more into the shot because “I mean, you’re going to be more tired in the fourth quarter than you are in the first. .”

At this stage of the season, Tatum may be more so than any other player on the court.He’s played 192 more minutes in the playoffs than any Warriors team, having previously ranked fourth in the NBA in regular-season minutes; he’s played more playoff minutes than LeBron James in the Heat’s Big Three. many, and nearly astonishing 3,700 Total minutes since opening night. Brown, Boston’s second-leading scorer, didn’t carry that burden, but he still played more minutes, playoffs and total minutes than anyone on Golden State’s roster.

Both Tatum and Brown played the entire second half until Kerr and Udoka came off the bench with 1:19 left, each playing more than 44 minutes — Tatum’s last Played over 40 minutes for the 10th time in May, and Brown played for the ninth time. That workload can manifest in a lack of improvement in late-game jump shots and, perhaps more critically, suboptimal choices at inopportune moments.

Fatigue gets in the way of concentration, and how a change in 3-point shooting can take you from 12 to 8 to 6 in the blink of an eye.Dedicated to the other side of hunting curry and Poole– dragging down property late enter the shooting clock swamp— and the challenge of creating a good look in a Draymond-led defense that moves at the speed of light and shrinks the floor with every shot. Trying to beat the Warriors in the Finals has nothing to do with these things. It’s about all, all, all, once. It’s a huge burden; a lot to bear.

But so did Giannis and a must-win Game 6 on the road, and so did Jimmy and a Game 7 on the road, and the Celtics were still standing. When you get this far, weight is a gift. Those who can afford it get the ring. There is only regret.

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