San Francisco – As he strives to become one of the NBA’s best players, Boston Celtics forward Jason Tatum faces an opportunity and a challenge that could determine whether he makes it to that goal.
Can Tatum help deliver the Boston Celtics their 18th NBA championship, and reclaim the top spot from the Lakers with their first title in 12 years? With the Celtics and the Golden State Warriors tied 2-2 in the NBA Finals, Tatum will put in an outstanding performance on Monday in Game Five (9 ET, ABC)? Not to exaggerate the implications, but upcoming Celtics games could dramatically define Tatum’s legacy with one of NBA’s most iconic franchises.
> Covering the whole series
“It’s the same amount of pressure I’ve always had,” Tatum said before Sunday’s training at 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 I really care about right now, is winning.”
For the Celtics to win, Tatum will likely have to up his game. Through his four NBA Finals games, he averaged 22.3 points while shooting 33.4% overall (42.5% 3 throws) with 7.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds. Those numbers largely follow Tatum’s regular season averages in points (26.9), shot percentage (45.3%) and rebounds (8.0) – even as they captured the playmaking leap in assists per game (up from 4.4).
“We want him to be the full package,” Celtics coach Emi Udoka said. “It’s something he’s capable of and he’s improved this year. For him, it’s just about picking and choosing his spots, when to be aggressive and when to engage guys, and to understand what they’re going to do.”
Udoka underestimated Tatum’s Game 1, taking 12 points in a 3-for-12 shootout. Udoka still loves how Tatum excelled as a facilitator en route to 13 assists. Udoka had a different rating with Tatum’s previous performance in Game 2 (28 points, 8 vs 19 FGs, three assists), Game 3 (26 points, 6 vs 23 FGs, nine assists) and Game 4 (23 points, 8 vs 23 set, six passes).
Odoka notes that Tatum is sometimes “over-penetrative” and worries more about making mistakes rather than playing hard. Tatum agreed, and vowed to make the necessary adjustments
“I don’t necessarily think about what that means for my career, but just what that means for our team and what we’re trying to achieve,” Tatum said. “You guys are going to discuss the ranking and what that matters for your legacy and things like that. That kind of doesn’t come down to me. I feel like every single day, I just try to do what I can to influence the win at any cost.”
Thompson approaches 3 years since injury at the end of first season
Game 5 will mark the third anniversary of Thompson’s injury left in the AFC Champions League in the Warriors’ decisive 6 loss to Toronto in the 2019 NBA Finals. Will the moment prompt Thompson to either express gratitude for his present present or to relive his traumatic past?
“Maybe for a second. But when I step on that court, I want to win by any means necessary,” Thompson said. “I don’t care how ugly or beautiful she is. Let’s just win and protect our stadium. I’m not going to sing a Kumbaya song or anything. I just want to win. “
Warriors striker Draymond Green seemed to hardly care to think. Injury dashed Golden State’s hopes for those Finals, robbing the team from Thompson’s two major seasons and putting them on track for two tumultuous seasons that ended with trips to the 2020 NBA Lottery and 2021 Play-In Tournament. Thompson missed the 2020-21 campaign after rupturing his right Achilles tendon before training camp, and is still recovering from his initial ACL rupture.
“There’s no need to talk about something unfortunate that happened three years ago,” Green said. “We will stay in the moment. We will think positive thoughts and move forward.”
Before the warriors moved forward, some would still look back.
“This is something we’ll probably be talking about for a very long time,” said Stephen Curry, the Warriors guard. “Hopefully we can get that mission done and honor that three-year journey that has actually led to something really special.”
In that time, Thompson spent 941 straight days battling frustration with monotonous rehab and getting a seat on the sidelines. Through both bouts of shooting and slack since his comeback, Thompson often appreciated playing again.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Thompson said. “I am so grateful and everything I did to that point led to it.”
Will Green have a game that bounces back?
Draymond Green and Warriors coach Steve Kerr are candid about their tumultuous matches over philosophical differences now and then. So after Keir Green sat on key stretches in the final quarter of Game 4, with the pair confirming there wasn’t much to rectify, he was probably more true than most of those claims.
“Draymond is Draymond. He will bring it every night,” Kerr said. “I think the thing that might have been lost last night is how awesome he is.”
Although Green only had two points in a 1-for-7 shot in Game 4, Kerr praised Green for scoring nine rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. Keir Green sat with 7:32 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Warriors trailed, 90-86. Once the Warriors led 97-94 with 3:02 left, he entered Keir Green to play defensively before taking him out again at the next offensive property. Green finished the match with two passes and an attacking rebound.
“I influenced the win,” Green said. “I’ve done it for the long haul, and I need to move on to Game 5.”
What started out as a huge problem has turned into a huge luxury.
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart described himself as an “energizer rabbit” during his childhood, giving his mother headaches as he struggled to sit still. This prompted Smart’s mother to enroll him in several youth sports programs, including basketball, soccer, soccer, and baseball.
This early experience heightened Smart’s love of hoops as well as his stamina, a key element that secured him recognition as the 2021 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 play against some of the greatest players, and you have to have a high drive. I just keep telling 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 be a really good defender.”
Injury Update, Warriors Edition
After moments of walking down the arena lobby without a visible limp, Carey offered reassurances about what his left foot was feeling:
Curry dealt with the pain after Celtics striker Al Horford fell on him during both lockouts and when the two sought out baseball in Game 3.
Injury Update, Celtics Edition
Despite tweaking his surgically repaired left knee in Game 4, Celtics’ Robert Williams III is still expected to play in Game 5.
“I’m optimistic he’ll be fine,” Odoka said. “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 comfortable”. Williams dealt with constant pain during a playoff tour of the Celtics after having surgery on March 30.
“I don’t even think about it anymore when I’m on the court,” 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 my adrenaline is getting me going.”
The Warriors started Otto Porter Jr. Instead of Kevon Looney in the powerhouse forward in Game 4, it remains to be seen if Kerr will run out of this lineup again to guide Game 5.
“It feels like in just about every series we’ve had to research a little bit about combinations and replacement patterns,” Kerr said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
The shoe must be
It turns out that Curry’s success will not depend solely on his shooting skills. Or if the Celtics could somehow miss some fouls. It also depends on Cary’s shoes.
A reporter alerted him that the Warriors had gone 3-0 in the play-offs that Curry was wearing the purple “Curry 4 Flotro”.
“I don’t know if this messes with Jo Jo if I’m familiar with the record now,” Carrey joked. “I have a lot of different colors, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. It got me thinking now too.”
Mark Medina is a writer and senior analyst at NBA.com. You can email him, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball Association, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.