If someone told you that Jayson Tatum would shoot 17.6 percent from the floor on 3-of-17 shooting in Game 1, your most likely conclusion would be that Ime Udoka’s team lost that battle.
After all, Tatum is the arrowhead of the Celtics offense, the one responsible for punishing a defense, forcing rotations and providing space for his teammates to cook. Sure, Boston’s offense could lean into areas of egalitarianism, but Tatum is quickly proving heliocentric to everything Boston does well.
Even on Thursday, where his shot just wasn’t falling, despite some high quality looks, Tatum found ways to take control of the game.
“We’ve talked about it all year and I’ve spoken to him at length about the impact on the game when he’s not having his best night on the offense. So he did that tonight. Obviously, going 3 for 17 usually won’t happen. What he did well and did early on was to involve others.
Seven of nine assists fairly early in the game, finished with 13, and the shots not falling, he still gets a fair amount of attention and made the right plays. I love his growth and progression in those areas, where he always keeps defensive, always involves others, doesn’t pout about his shots and tries to play through some mistakes and the physicality they were playing with him,” Udoka told reporters after Tatum’s impressive playing performance.
I’ve never been a fan of calling someone’s decision-making “processing speed” because I think it’s too robotic, but I’ve embraced the term because it brings together several skills under one umbrella. That being said, the game above is indicative of Tatum’s improved processing speed.
Kevon Looney does a great job of defending on the screen, taking away any space for Tatum to cook in the lane. However, in the weak corner, Draymond Green has started to slump over Marcus Smart, so he is in a position to score Robert Williams’ inevitable roll on the rim and/or help if Tatum is able to get Looney up on his hips.
Tatum reads Green slumping and quickly hits Smart with a pass that lands straight into his shooting pocket, allowing him to immediately enter his shooting motion, giving the Celtics an easy three points on a tidy penny.
“I just read the play. They do a great job helping out and things like that. So, you know, obviously it’s as simple as if you draw two, find someone who’s free. That’s what I was just trying to do,” Tatum said after opening up the Warriors defense time and time again.
What’s impressive about Tatum’s passing on Thursday is that he didn’t try to force it. Most of his assists were for players who were ‘one pass away’ and were the easy option, rather than trying to indulge and consistently hit cross passes in the corners. By moving the ball to the closest teammate, Tatum was able to keep the offense flowing and moving to ensure spacing remained high.
Six months ago, Tatum made the same pass to Pritchard, but he did it before the weak side defender was brought in as an assistant. Still, in the clip above, we can see the St. Louis native’s balance on the ball and figure out how to control a full-screen game. Rather than rushing the pass, Tatum maintains possession of the ball while putting pressure on the rim, forcing the defense to react, leaving an open shooter in the corner.
It wasn’t until the Warriors gave up their man-to-man coverage that Tatum threw the pass to Pritchard, putting Golden State in scramble mode and generating a high-quality look for one of the top scorers. perimeter of Boston.
Of course, even when Tatum struggles to score the ball, he still holds incredible gravity and forces the defense to adapt to his presence. Take the play below for example, and watch how once Trophy winner Larry Bird hits the paint, Golden State sends all five defenders towards him. This is the type of fear he instills in teams, regardless of his daily successes or difficulties.
Drawing that many defenders to you on a single play is the definition of gravity and continues to add to Tatum’s case of heliocentrism. Still, despite being shown to a crowd, Tatum kept a cool head, spotted the spinning weakside low man and hit the corner shooter for the easy bucket.
We saw similar results when Tatum found himself operating from the low post. The defenders were quick to leave their man on the perimeter to pressure the ball and force a pick-up as they feared post moves and the 24-year-old’s disappearance, but instead they should have worry about his passing skills.
Throughout the fight against the Warriors, it was Tatum’s passing and defense that kept him impactful despite his poor shooting night.
“I had a bad night filming. I just tried to impact the game in other ways. We’re in the league. We’re in the final. All I was worried about was “trying to win, and we did. That’s all that matters at this point.”
Yes, the budding superstar is unlikely to repeat such savage struggles in the future, but his game will certainly have to continue performing at a similar level if he is to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy in a few weeks. Luckily for us, Tatum has been outstanding as a playmaker throughout this post-season run, and we’re seeing his improvements in real time, let’s just hope that when he rediscovers his scoring touch, he gets better. will remember how effective he can be when he gets the ball off early.