SAN FRANCISCO – As he strives to become one of the best players in the NBA, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum faces both an opportunity and a challenge that could determine whether he reaches that goal.
Can Tatum help the Boston Celtics to their 18th NBA championship, retaking the league lead from the Lakers with a first title in 12 years? With the Celtics and Golden State Warriors facing a 2-2 tie in the NBA Finals, Tatum will deliver a signature performance Monday in Game 5 (9ET, ABC)? Not to overstate the implications, but the Celtics’ upcoming games could significantly define Tatum’s legacy with one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.
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“It’s the same amount of pressure I’ve always had,” Tatum said before Sunday’s practice at the Chase Center. “It’s not something I go to sleep thinking about, or when I wake up. Obviously I want to win by any means necessary and I will do whatever it takes. That’s all that really matters to me at the moment is winning.”
For the Celtics to win, Tatum will likely have to up his game. Through four NBA Finals games, he has averaged 22.3 points and shot 33.4% overall (42.5% from 3s) with 7.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds. Those numbers are well below Tatum’s regular-season averages for points (26.9), shooting percentage (45.3%) and rebounds (8.0), even as they capture a jump in assists per game (vs. 4.4).
“We want the full package from him,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “It’s something he’s capable of and he’s improved this year. For him, it’s just picking and choosing the spots from him, when to be aggressive and when to get the guys involved, and understanding what they’re going to do.”
Udoka downplayed Tatum’s performance in Game 1, in which he had 12 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Udoka still liked how Tatum excelled as a facilitator on the way to 13 assists. Udoka got a different assessment with Tatum’s previous performances in Game 2 (28 points, 8-for-19 FG, three assists), Game 3 (26 points, 6-for-23 FG, nine assists) and Game 4 (23 points). , 8 of 23 field goals, six assists).
Udoka observed that Tatum occasionally “goes too deep” and cares too much about fouling instead of playing aggressively. Tatum agreed, promising to make any necessary adjustments.
“I’m not necessarily thinking about what it means for my career, but what it means for our team and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Tatum said. “You guys will be debating rankings and what does that matter to your legacy and things like that. That does not depend on me. I feel like every day, I just try to do what I can to make an impact by winning at all costs.”
Thompson approaches the third anniversary of his first season-ending injury
Game 5 will mark the third anniversary that Thompson injured his left anterior cruciate ligament in the Warriors’ decisive Game 6 loss to Toronto in the 2019 NBA Finals. Will the moment prompt Thompson to express gratitude for his present? present or to relive a painful past?
“Maybe for a second. But when I walk on that court, I want to win by any means necessary,” Thompson said. “I don’t care how ugly or pretty it is. Let’s just win and protect our home court. I’m not going to sing ‘Kumbaya’ or anything. I just want to fucking win.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green hardly seemed interested in reflecting. The injury dashed Golden State’s hopes in those Finals, robbing the team of two major seasons from Thompson and putting them on the path to two tumultuous seasons that ended with trips to the 2020 NBA Draft lottery and the NBA Play-In Tournament. 2021. Thompson missed that 2020-21 campaign after tearing his right Achilles tendon just before training camp, still recovering from the initial tear in his ACL.
“There’s no need to talk about something unfortunate that happened three years ago,” Green said. “We are going to stay right now. We are going to have positive thoughts and we are going to move forward.”
Before the Warriors move forward, some will still look back.
“That’s something we’re probably going to talk about for a long time,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Hopefully we can do this work and pay tribute to that three-year journey that actually leads to something really special.”
At that point, Thompson spent 941 straight days battling frustration through monotonous rehab and a sideline seat. Through shooting outbursts and knockdowns since his return, Thompson has often expressed appreciation for him simply for playing again.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Thompson said. “I am very grateful and everything I did up to that point led to this.”
Will Green have a recovery game?
Draymond Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr are candid about their squabbling over occasional philosophical differences. So after Kerr sat Green down for key stretches in the fourth quarter of Game 4, which the pair maintained there was little to fix, rang perhaps truer than most of those claims.
“Draymond is Draymond. He will bring it every night,” Kerr said. “I think what was maybe missed the other night is how good he was down the stretch.”
Although Green only had two points on 1-for-7 shooting in Game 4, Kerr praised Green for recording nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Kerr sat Green with 7:32 left in the fourth quarter and the Warriors trailing, 90-86. Once the Warriors built up a 97-94 lead with 3:02 left, Kerr inserted Green for a defensive play before replacing him again on the next two offensive possessions. Green closed out the game with two assists and an offensive rebound.
“Impact win,” Green said. “I did that down the stretch, and I need to carry that into Game 5.”
The smart approach
What started as a big problem has turned into a huge luxury.
Boston Celtics shooting guard Marcus Smart described himself as “an energizing bunny” during his childhood, giving his mother headaches as he struggled to sit still. That prompted Smart’s mother to enroll him in numerous youth sports programs, including basketball, football, soccer, and baseball.
That early experience sharpened Smart’s love of the rim as well as his stamina, a key ingredient that secured him recognition as the 2021-22 Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“You have to keep going and never give up. You can’t take breaks. You have to push yourself to the limit,” Smart said. “You are playing against some of the best players, and you have to have a great engine. I constantly tell myself, no matter how hurt you are, no matter how tired you are, you have to keep going. That’s the mindset you have to have to be a good defender.”
Injury Update Warriors Edition
Moments after walking down the aisle of the arena without a visible limp, Curry reassured how his left foot feels:
Curry dealt with the pain after Celtics forward Al Horford fell on him during a shutdown and when the two chased down a fumble in Game 3.
Injury Update, Celtics Edition
Despite discomfort in his surgically repaired left knee in Game 4, Celtics center Robert Williams III is still expected to play in Game 5.
“Optimistically, he’ll be good to go,” said Udoka. “But we will test it before the game as usual.”
Although he described his left knee as “a little sore,” Williams said it still “feels good.” Williams has dealt with ongoing pain throughout the Celtics’ playoff run after undergoing surgery on March 30.
“I don’t even think about it when I’m on the court anymore,” Williams said. “Obviously it’s hard to deal with, but I don’t really think about it on the court. I guess you could say I get the adrenaline going.”
The Warriors started Otto Porter Jr. in place of Kevon Looney at power forward in Game 4, but it remains to be seen if Kerr will be without that lineup again to tip Game 5.
“It feels like almost every series, we’ve had to look at combinations and substitution patterns a little bit,” Kerr said. “I’ll leave it like that.”
must be the shoes
It turns out that Curry’s success won’t just depend on his aim. Or if the Celtics can somehow force some misses. It also depends on Curry’s footwear.
A reporter alerted him that the Warriors were 3-0 in playoff games in which Curry was wearing the purple “Curry 4 Flowtro.”
“I don’t know if that interferes with the ju-ju if I’m aware of the record now,” Curry joked. “I have a lot of different colors, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. You also made me think now.
Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him. On twitter.
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