BOSTON — Jayson Tatum had an easy solution for the Boston Celtics to bounce back with a Game 5 win of the NBA Finals Monday night — he just needs to play better.
“I mean, I give [the Golden State Warriors] Credit,” Tatum said after Boston’s 107-97 loss to Golden State in Game 4 on Friday night at TD Garden tied the series 2-2. “They are a great team. They play well. They have a game plan, stuff like that.
“But it’s up to me. I have to be better. I know I affect the game in other ways, but I have to be more efficient, shoot the ball better, finish better on the edge.
“I take responsibility for that.”
Tatum hasn’t played the standard he’s set for himself in this series. He shoots 34% from the field, and while he passed the ball beautifully in Boston’s two wins and amassed 22 assists and four turnovers, he has nine assists and 10 turnovers in their two losses.
Tatum, along with the rest of the Celtics, shorted out in the fourth quarter on Friday night and only made two shots in the final seven minutes. This allowed Golden State to end the game on a 21-6 run and turn the score in their favor to level the streak.
“We obviously felt like we put ourselves in a position to win the game,” said Tatum, who was 1-5 in the fourth quarter. “There are many things we would have liked to have done differently, especially on offense. I think we were way too stagnant of everyone in the fourth quarter.”
However, it all starts with Tatum receiving MVP honors in the Eastern Conference Finals and being the face of the Celtics franchise. He was shown as the counterpart to Warriors star Stephen Curry in this series, but on the pitch, Curry was incomparable.
That was certainly the case in Game 4 when Curry had 43 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and dominated every second he was on the court. Tatum’s night, meanwhile, was emblematic of Boston’s poor decision-making for much of the game. He had five turnovers and was a big part of the team’s stagnant offense all the way.
When asked if he was putting too much pressure on himself, Tatum said no and that he just needs to get better.
“I think that’s as easy as it is,” he said. “I just have to get better. I know I can be better, so it’s not like I, myself or my team are asking me to do something I’m not capable of. You know the level and I know the level I can play at.
“It’s up to me to do that more often than not, just to help my team the best I can. It’s not too much pressure at all. It’s like my job.”
When asked what he’s seen of Tatum so far this series, Celtics coach Ime Udoka cited his chasing fouls rather than attempting to complete through contact.
“Sometimes he looks for fouls,” said Udoka. “They are a team that charges in certain games. He finds the outlets. About to shoot two, three guys. That’s the balance between being aggressive and picking your spots and doing what he did in previous games, which was kicked out and getting wide open looks.
“It’s sort of the constant theme. Getting him in the basket, being both a goalscorer and a playmaker. They do a good job with their rotations. Sometimes they chase fouls instead of going to the finish. I’ve seen that in a few games so far.”
What the Celtics need to see going forward is the Tatum who’s consistently featured in big spots earlier in these playoffs, such as his 46-point effort in Milwaukee in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to stave off the elimination against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Bucks.
A similar performance in Game 5 in San Francisco on Monday night could give Boston a chance to wrap up that streak in Game 6 in Boston next Thursday.
Tatum said he remains confident he and the Celtics can recover.
“We’re not doing this on purpose,” Tatum said. “I promise you we won’t do that. We try as hard as we can. There are certain things we need to clean up. Obvious ball losses, movement on the offensive. 1? That would have been the best scenario.
“But it’s the final. The art of competition, they came here feeling like they had to win. It was’nt easy. I think that’s kind of the beauty of it, it’s not going to be easy. It should not be .
“We know we both want it and we have to take it.”