Jayson Tatum and the Celtics run out of answers

There have been many headline-grabbing stories from the 2022 NBA Finals: Stephen Curry’s brilliance; Jaylen Brown’s juice and Robert Williams III’s inner scare; the redemption of Andrew Wiggins and the return of #StrengthInNumbers. The largest The story of these finals, however, is the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum-led offense – its form, function and, increasingly, breach, especially late in the game.

The Celtics won Game 1 after an avalanche in the fourth quarter – they became small, scattered the floor and buried the Warriors with a 3-point barrier. Since then, Boston has largely not been able to generate consistent offense late in the game, and has failed to eclipse 25 points in the fourth quarter of games 2 through 5, scoring just 95.6 points per 100 possessions during the last four last frames – an offensive level. incompetence that stands in relation to the middle of Process Sixers. These matches have pushed the Eastern Conference champions to the brink when they go home to match 6 on Thursday, potentially 48 minutes away from the end of the season.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Celtic man Al Horford said after game 5 on Monday. “This is the time we look each other in the eyes and we have to find out. We have an opportunity now. We have to find out. There is no tomorrow for us.”

Boston’s defense, far from the NBA’s best during the regular season, has performed largely as advertised in the championship round. With the exception of the Match 2 attack that kept Curry and Co. from going down 0-2 at home, the Celtics have largely kept the Warriors under wraps, keeping them at just 93.9 points per 100 games at halftime, according to Glass Cleaning; who would have ranked 21st in the league this season.

That meat grinder’s halfway defense – so adept at switching ball screens, castrating Golden States’ split actions and backdoor cuts, taking away the airspace and actually forcing Curry to be superhuman to generate points – has given the Celtics a chance to win every game in this series. The problem, as always, has been their ability to keep The game on the half of the field: Boston has turned the ball over 17.2 percent of its offensive possession in the final and given up 20.6 points per game by these hosts, both of whom would have been close to the worst marks in the game. NBA during the regular season.

C’s penchant for live-ball sales – the lollipop-popped entries, the jumps without plan-kicking, the daring attempts to put the needle in the traffic – have been particularly damaging. Golden State has taken 49 thefts in five games and has scored nearly 1.5 points per attack due to these thefts, and has routinely turned Boston’s errors into layups or draws:

Boston finished Game 5 with 18 turnovers – five by Brown, four by Tatum and Marcus Smart. They led to 22 Warriors points and a Golden State victory, and continued one of the clearest patterns and most striking statistical chimes this post-season: the Celtics are now 1-7 when you turn the ball 16 or more times in these playoffs, and 13-2 when they do not.

“We are difficult to hit when we do not turn the ball,” Tatum told reporters after game 5. “Obviously we are easy to hit when we turn the ball.”

Well, maybe not easybut easier – and even more vulnerable when they combine these sales with the kind of shots that can just as easily count the same in the box.

The calmer headache comes when a Celtic miss a layup on a pell-mell drive to the paint or a catch-and-shoot jumper from the corner, and Golden State can catch back the defensive. The Dubs have been looking for opportunities to push away from those misses, especially when a pair of Celtics are below the penalty line and Boston’s floor balance is out of order. They have found dirt there, especially lately: Golden State had an average of 1.12 points per ball possession that began with a defensive return in games 4 and 5, according to Inpredictable, a dramatic increase from the first three competitions, and a large help to tip offensive tides in their favor.

That kind of play – physical defense in attack, time and aggressive help at the basket, hard finishes, several attempts at 50/50 balls, a commitment to push up the pace – is about as good a definition of “force”. , ”A favorite phrase by Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and defensive totem Draymond Green, which you’ll get. Golden State brought it out of the gate in Game 5 and Boston stuttered in the face of it, went 2-on-8 from the court with two turnovers in the first five minutes, and put them behind the 8-ball through a first half that saw them score gruesome 71.7 points per 100 at halftime and let Golden State score an incredible two points per game (essentially a guaranteed bucket) in the transition.

The wobble becomes all the more annoying when you see Boston play like it did in the third quarter – aggressively but complexly, precisely and well distributed, breaking down individual defenders to collapse the inner coverage, then relying on passing and creating for others. C’s seven assists on 11 made baskets in the third quarter with 35 points, completely, in short, turned the game around with execution:

“When we’re at our best, it’s easy ball movement – I think the third quarter showed that,” said Celtic head coach Ime Udoka. “The drive-and-kick was beautiful, worked, got the guys wide open shots… It has been a problem for us, obviously, at times in this series, in quarters especially where we have become a bit stagnant. When we do well, it works, it looks good, we get shots we want. [When] we slow down, play in the crowd, those turnovers show up in the bad offense. “

Boston’s inability to break these cycles – hitting everything down, running a set, creating a good look and coming up with a muffler that stops a run before it can roll – has proven costly in the last couple of games.

– The guys who have the ball have to read. It’s a difficult job, but they have to identify things, Horford said. “Outlets are going to be what they are. The defense is going to be what it is. It’s just making the piece. It’s as simple as that.”

Golden State, far away the more experienced team on this stage, has more successfully kept it simple. Even without his shot on goal, Curry (eight assists and just one turn in 37 minutes) controlled the game as a sort of steady hand that knew exactly how to pull two to the ball and make the next play. The ball floated freer; the look became lighter.

For as much growth as Smart has shown as a primary point guard, and as much as Tatum and Brown have evolved as wing facilitators, the Celtics have not really had that level of possession-for-possession control in this series. Without it, the empty trips pile up and metastasize; without it, as Brown said after the match, “We looked around and expected someone to save us.”

It is meant to be Tatum, who is less than a month away from being named both an All-NBA First Team forward and MVP for the Eastern Conference final, but who has – despite leading the Celtics in points, rebounds and assists per match in this match. series – not quite clear enough to pattern. The culprits, for the most part: a propensity for turnover – 18 in these finals and 95 in the playoffs, most players in some post-season since 1978 – and a persistent inability to convert within the arc.

Tatum shoots fiery 19-for-40 (47.5 percent) from 3-point countries, but only gloomy 19-for-62 (30.6 percent) on 2 points. Udoka has at times regretted his star’s preference to drive to seek contact instead of driving to score, which can result in imbalance, low percentage runners leaving him in a pile on the baseline instead of finishing over the rim and trotting back on defense. He has also struggled with the length, speed and determination of Wiggins, who has kept him to 9-for-29 shooting inside the arc, according to NBA Advanced Stats’ matchup data.

When Tatum has been able to lose the Canadian, he has had greater success shooting over the top of the smaller Jordan Poole and Gary Payton II, and working to attack Curry in pick-and-roll action and isolation. For the most part, however, he has had a very hard time finding daylight against a Golden State defense that is obligated to both wall off the front of the rim and send extra help on the way every time he turns the corner:

After shooting just 3-for-8 in the paint in Game 5, including booms on all three of his inside attempts in the fourth quarter, Tatum said he felt pleased with the looks he received; he “just has to make more of them.” That, he added, could mean getting your legs into his shots a little more because, “I mean, you’ll be a little more tired in the fourth quarter than you are in the first quarter.”

That may be more true for Tatum at this stage of the season than it is for any other player on the field. He has played 192 minutes more this offseason than any Warrior, having finished fourth in the NBA in the regular season; he has played more playoff minutes than any player since LeBron James with the Big 3 Heat, and is approaching a dizzying 3700 total number of minutes since opening night. Brown, Boston’s second leading goal scorer, has not borne as heavy a burden, but he has still played more minutes, both after the season and overall, than anyone on the Golden States list.

Both Tatum and Brown played the entire second half until Kerr and Udoka cleared their benches with 1:19 left, and each logged more than 44 minutes – the 10th time Tatum has played more than 40 minutes in the last month, and Brown’s ninth. This type of workload can manifest itself in both a lack of lift on jumpers in late games and, perhaps more critically, suboptimal choices in unfavorable moments.

There’s a way that fatigue can hinder focus, and how the 3-point variance shifts can send you restless from 12 straight booms to eight straight hits to six straight booms in an instant. That’s the downside of committing to hunting Career and Poole-draw assets sent into the shot clock morass– and the challenge of creating a good look against a Draymond-led defense that moves at light speed to shrink the floor on each turn. Trying to beat the Warriors in the final is not about any of these things; it’s about everything, all at once. It is a monumental burden; there is a lot to carry.

But it was Giannis and a must-win Game 6 on the road, and so were Jimmy and a Game 7 on the road, and the Celtics are still standing. When you get this far, weight is a gift. Those who endure get calls. Those who can not get, only regret.