BOSTON — With just a little greater than a minute left in Game 6 of the N.B.A. finals, Celtics Coach Ime Udoka pulled his starters. That meant Jayson Tatum had a minute to sit down by himself and really feel the load of disappointment that got here with shedding.
“It hurts,” Tatum mentioned. “Being with this group, the things we’ve overcome throughout the season, getting to this point. Just knowing how bad we wanted it, coming up short. It’s a terrible feeling.”
He lowered his head as he spoke, staring on the desk he sat behind.
A couple of minutes earlier than, Tatum needed to endure the indignity of watching one other staff, Golden State, rejoice profitable a championship on his residence courtroom. He politely congratulated his opponents, then walked off with a clean look on his face. When a fan reached down from the stands and grabbed the towel off his shoulders, Tatum didn’t even react.
He had not been at his greatest through the finals, typically guarded by Golden State’s Andrew Wiggins. In the clinching sport, Tatum scored solely 13 factors with 7 assists and three rebounds, whereas committing 5 turnovers. It capped a troublesome sequence wherein he struggled to discover a rhythm offensively. At 24, he’s a foundational piece of Boston’s younger core, and this might have been his second.
On June 1, the day earlier than the finals started, Tatum spoke to the media and mentioned he wished to be trustworthy.
“There have been times where I questioned, am I the right kind of person to kind of lead a group like this,” he mentioned. “You know, never, like, doubted myself, but just moments after some of those losses and the tougher parts of the season. That’s human nature to kind of question yourself.”
He mentioned it was necessary to “always stick to what you believe in and trust in the work that you’ve put in.”
Then he went on.
“You know, it can’t rain forever.”
The Celtics had opened the season off-kilter, shedding their first two video games and, by early January, 19 extra. They had been 18-21 and gave the impression to be destined for an early low season. But led by Tatum, they turned issues round. They roared by the second half of the season and claimed the second seed within the East.
The postseason seemed to be a formidable problem, however Tatum’s Celtics, the most popular staff within the league, might have risen to the event. In the tip, they didn’t get there.
“One thing that he’s always done throughout the season was seeing multiple different coverages and figured it out,” Udoka mentioned. “He did that throughout the first few series. This one was a rough one. Very consistent team that did some things to limit him and make others pay.
“For him, it’s just continuing to grow and understand you’re going to see this the rest of your career. This is just a start.”
Tatum already has a notable résumé. He has been named an N.B.A. All-Star for the previous three seasons. This 12 months, he was additionally named to the first-team All-N.B.A. For his efficiency in opposition to the Miami Heat within the Eastern Conference finals, Tatum was given the Eastern Conference finals’ Most Valuable Player Award.
He averaged 26.9 factors per sport through the common season and solely 2.9 turnovers per sport. His turnover numbers had been decrease than a lot of the gamers with higher scoring averages than he had.
When requested what the Celtics wanted to enhance, Tatum mentioned: “I think just our level of poise at times throughout this series and previous series, myself included. Taking care of the ball, things like that.”
For the Celtics as an entire, turnovers had been an issue through the finals. Boston misplaced the ultimate three video games of the sequence, committing 15 turnovers in Game 4, one other 18 in Game 5 and a painful 22 in Game 6. Golden State had its careless moments as effectively however responded with sufficient poise to recuperate.
“It’s easy to look back and see all the things you could have done better,” Tatum mentioned. “We tried. I know that for a fact.”
To single out Tatum’s offense can be to overlook some context in a sequence that had a defensive bent to it. Boston couldn’t rating 100 factors after Game 3. The Celtics held Golden State to 104.8 factors per sport, beneath its regular-season common of 111 factors per sport.
Tatum additionally was capable of have an effect on the sport with out scoring early within the sequence. The Celtics scored 120 factors in Game 1, their highest scoring sport of the finals. Tatum added simply 12 factors. Golden State defenders stored Tatum uncomfortable, whether or not he tried to drive to the basket or shoot from exterior. He started to search for his teammates as a substitute and had 13 assists.
But because the sequence progressed, Golden State started to remove his different choices and make Boston pay for its errors.
From Games 2 by 5, Tatum averaged 26 factors per sport however struggled to make a major impression, notably because the stakes rose.
It was a departure from earlier within the playoffs. When the Celtics confronted elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in opposition to the Milwaukee Bucks, Tatum scored 46 factors with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. He shot 53.1 % from the sphere that sport.
It was a feat that he couldn’t come near matching in opposition to Golden State. There had been even instances through the finals when Tatum appeared hesitant to take a shot if it was there for him, opting to search for teammates as a substitute. He additionally struggled to complete on the rim.
“We all could have done things better,” Tatum mentioned. “I feel like I could have done a lot of things better.”
Tatum injured his proper shoulder through the Eastern Conference finals however wouldn’t attribute his struggles to that harm. He was requested if he would wish surgical procedure and mentioned he didn’t assume he would.
Rather, dejected after coming so near profitable his first championship, Tatum spoke solely usually in regards to the want for enchancment and the way troublesome the evening was.
His teammates supplied help.
“Just gave him a hug, man,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown mentioned. “I know it was a tough last game. I know, obviously, it was a game we felt like we could have won.”
His coach had encouraging phrases, too.
“The growth he showed as a playmaker this year and in certain areas, I think this is the next step for him,” Udoka mentioned. “Figuring that out, getting to where some of the veterans are that have seen everything and took their lumps early in their careers.”
He added: “High I.Q., intelligent guy that will learn from this and figure it out. I think it will propel him to go forward, definitely motivate him.”