Jayson Tatum helped get the Boston Celtics over the hump. After stalling in the Eastern Conference Finals three times since 2016, the Tatum-led Celtics faced a grueling postseason run and finally got it done.
After sweeping the Brooklyn Nets, knocking off the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, and outlasting the top-seeded Miami Heat, the Celtics reached the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Although they came up short to the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics pulled off a remarkable turnaround after an ugly start to the season.
Tatum played a major role in that turnaround, but his stock took a significant hit during the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics came up short in quest for Banner No. 18
Back in November and December, Banner No. 18 wasn’t even a thought. The Celtics had an ugly start and middle to the 2021-22 NBA season.
When the calendar flipped to 2022, the Celtics flipped a switch. They became a completely different team. After going 25-25 through the first 50 games and struggling to find their identity, they ended the regular season on a 26-6 run. They closed as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tatum played a big role in the turnaround. He was a scoring machine, putting up 54 points in a victory over the Nets. He followed that up with a 44-point effort at the Charlotte Hornets. Those outings came during an 11-game stretch where Tatum led the team in scoring and averaged 33.4 points.
Tatum made his third-straight NBA All-Star appearance. He averaged career-highs in points (26.9), rebounds (8.0), and assists (4.4). He was named All-NBA First Team.
Tatum saw his stock drop considerably in the postseason
While Tatum got them there, he struggled on the big stage, and it wasn’t just in the NBA Finals. Consistency was his biggest problem in the playoffs.
While the Celtics rolled, Tatum got much of the credit. Many believed he was a top-five player in the league. Former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins said he was top three. Boston legend Paul Pierce said Tatum could be the greatest Celtics player ever. While those comments could eventually be true, they have been placed on hold after his playoff run.
Tatum had one superstar game in the playoffs — one where he put his team on his back from start to finish. That came Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks. Tatum dominated with 46 points, with his team trailing 3-2 in the series. Other than that, he’s been average at best.
Jimmy Butler outplayed him in the Eastern Conference Finals. Tatum was nearly invisible in the NBA Finals. He shot 31% from the floor, including a 6-for-18 performance Thursday night. He went 3-for-17 in the series opener. Tatum racked up 23 turnovers in the series, giving him a postseason record of 100. He struggled mightily to finish at the rim.
On many occasions, he uttered “I’ve got to be better” during his postgame press conferences. He never got better.
Tatum wants to be the best, and this playoff run will fuel him. He’s talented and will come back hungry to redeem himself. Sometimes you have to take two steps backward to move forward. Tatum did just that in the postseason.