August 9, 2022

Jayson Tatum started his night with a turnover and ended it with an air ball. For two quarters in between, the Boston Celtics forward seemed like the superstar he became in this playoff series, but Tatum and his young teammates undoubtedly left a championship on the table in Games 4 and 5 in the NBA Finals.

Back-to-back fourth-quarter slumps will live with these Celtics long after this streak if they can’t salvage their season, and the franchise-facing All-NBA First Team will bear the loss, like it or not. That’s how the league works, especially since Tatum participated in a pair of inexplicable late-game disappearing acts.

The latest turned another five-point lead into a 104-94 loss and a 3-2 series deficit on Monday.

“Our backs are against the wall. This is the moment when we look each other in the eye and we have to understand that,” Boston’s Al Horford said. “We have an opportunity. You have to understand that. There is no tomorrow for us.”

The Celtics have one more chance on Thursday to avoid becoming a footnote for a Golden State Warriors dynasty, and two if they force a third straight Game 7 against a more veteran team. Tatum has answered the call in three previous playoff games, and it will take two more for him not to harbor the stench of a lost title.

“You better be confident, right?” said Tatum, who scored 22 of his 27 points in Game 5 in three quarters. “We don’t have to win two in one day. We just have to win one game on Thursday. We’ve been in this situation before. So it’s not over. I have to win on Thursday. That’s all we have to do. to worry about. at the present time.”

Since taking a 2-1 series lead against the three-time champions and a 94-90 lead five minutes from the end of Game 4, Boston’s three stalwarts have withered with two chances to take the control of this best of seven sets. During the final five minutes of Game 4 and the first 8 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 5, Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart combined to miss 12 of 13 shots and commit five turnovers.

Golden State beat Boston in those two highest pressure streaks of this series, 35-8. The Celtics didn’t trail in the second half of Game 4 but for a minute before they were outscored 17-3 in the final five minutes of a 107-97 loss. Boston used a 35-point third quarter in Game 5 to turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead, but a buzzer-beating 3-point Jordan Poole gave the Warriors an advantage. from 75-74 in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics watched that margin climb to 93-79 over the next 8 minutes and 18 seconds.

During these swinging series totaling 13 and a half minutes, here is the release of Boston’s biggest stars:

  • Tate: 2 PTS (0-4 FG, 0-1 3P, 2-4 FT), 1 AST, 1 TO

  • Brown: 3 PTS (1-6 FG, 0-3 3P, 1-2 FT), 0 AST, 3 TO

  • Clever: 0 PTS (0-3 FG, 0-2 3P, 0-0 FT), 1AST, 1 TO

Tatum attempted a team-record 21 field goals in the final five fourth quarters and scored just five. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, Tatum scored 114 points (on 54/49/88 separate shooting) on ​​17 fourth quarters — bested league-wide only by co-star Brown’s 120 points (on 62/67/ 65 splits).

Their brilliance in critical times is what got the Celtics this far, and their shortcomings in those same situations this series is why they now face elimination in Game 6 at TD Garden on Thursday. They’ve both been outplayed by once forgotten Warriors winger Andrew Wiggins in the past two games.

“Throughout the season it was kind of like us against everybody,” the still-confident Brown said. “I consider it no different now. My faith is higher than it has ever been before, so I’m looking forward to Game 6.”

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum struggled to score at times against the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tatum’s shooting struggles in this series are particularly confusing. In five games, he’s now 19 of 40 from 3-point range (47.5%) and 19 of 82 from inside the arc (23.2%). You’d think those numbers would be reversed if his misfortunes were the result of lingering effects from the stinger he initially suffered in his shooting shoulder in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and went down. worsened several times since.

Double teams and Wiggins’ defensive effort might help explain Tatum’s 10 turnovers in the past two games (part of a record 95 turnovers in a single playoff series), but that’s no answer either. excuse for missing layups against a team that his coach has repeatedly said lacks rim protection. It could be nerves. There are few other reasons for Tatum’s pass to the fans in the front row on Boston’s first possession of Monday’s game.

It can also be exhaustion. Tatum has played a league-leading 943 playoff minutes in 23 games, 67 more than Brown and nearly 200 more than Klay Thompson, who leads the Warriors with 751 minutes in 21 appearances. The only perimeter players in history to record as many playoff minutes in a single season with as high a usage rate as Tatum (29%) are Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade .

None of them made it after two shortened offseasons in the third year of a global pandemic.

Curry is 10 years older than Tatum and has had the ball in his hands more in these playoffs. You might think the youth serve Tatum, but the Celtics star encounters more contact than Curry offensively and takes on more responsibility defensively. Few players, if any, have ever carried such a heavy burden in the playoffs at age 24.

For what it’s worth, Celtics coach Ime Udoka said fatigue could have been a factor in the fourth quarter of Game 5 as they expended so much energy coming back from a lackluster start, but he would blame Boston’s lack of energy over the 23 games. in 58 days. “I don’t think that’s the reason at all,” he said.

Tatum will need to access whatever reserves he has left in his reservoir on Thursday as there will be no Game 7 if he and the Celtics cannot complete a fourth quarter with the same strength they use to establish their lead. We’ve seen Tatum take Boston in a Playoff 6 before, when he scored 46 points in a road win over defending champion Milwaukee Bucks – the most impressive performance of his young career – but a month and 11 increasingly pressurized playoff games have passed. Between.

“We’ve been here before, we’ve done it against Milwaukee,” Udoka added. “Let’s take him back to the bay.

Much will be made of Boston’s inexperience if Golden State completes this comeback, but Tatum earned his playoff scars in a pair of Game 7 wins in the previous two rounds, and there is no comfort in citing youth as an excuse for a defeat in the final. An offseason of debate over his ability to be the primary option on a championship team would await him, fair or not, and the sting of defeat will live with him until he can reach that point. Ask any number of players outside of the Hall of Fame how hard it is to get back here.

Game 6 facing elimination against an aging dynasty is truly where legends are made. Curry can add to his own, but the all-time greatness of the two-time league MVP is certified. Tatum’s may be lying right now.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach