Monday, June 24, 2024

Inside Jayson Tatum’s NBA Finals stats: Celtics star hasn’t been as bad vs. Mavs as his haters want you to think | Sporting News Australia

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Jayson Tatum was supposed to be the man heading into the NBA Finals. After making the All-NBA First Team and leading the Celtics with 26.9 points per game during the regular season, this was his moment to shine on the biggest stage. 

Instead, Tatum has given his haters (of which there are many) the fuel that they have been looking for.

Tatum is averaging just 17.0 points per game on 31.6 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3 while turning it over a team-high 4.5 times per game. On the defensive end, Luka Doncic was noticeably targeting him throughout Game 2. Making matters worse, Doncic shot 75 percent against Tatum, per the league’s matchup data.

That surface-level analysis had made Tatum the butt of many jokes and memes (some of which are admittedly funny). He certainly hasn’t been the best player in this series, but those awful shooting numbers don’t tell the whole story.

When you look deeper than bucket-getting, Tatum’s positive impact is undeniable. He has helped the Celtics win the first two games of this series by doing everything else aside from scoring. 

NOH: Biggest takeaways from Game 2 of the Finals

Why Jayson Tatum’s 2024 NBA Finals stats aren’t as bad as you think

Jayson Tatum has made all of the right passes

Tatum’s assist numbers speak for themself — he’s averaging a series-high 8.5 assists per game. 

Many of those are coming due to the Celtics’ game plan. They’re attacking Doncic as much as possible, trying to get him on Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum has blown by him, collapsed the defense and made some good passes to set up teammates. 

Tatum has taken his aggressiveness to the rim up to another level during this series. As pointed out by Yahoo’s Dan Devine, his 29 drives in Game 2 was over three times higher than his regular season average. 

One of the main beneficiaries of those drives has been Jrue Holiday. Holiday went 9-of-9 from the paint in Game 2 because of passes like this:

The Mavs are loading up on Tatum any time he takes it into the paint. He’s making unselfish passes in those situations, and it’s leading to winning. 

MORE: Why Celtics need Kristaps Porzingis to close out Mavericks

Jayson Tatum has been a better defender than the stats suggest

Doncic did shoot a good percentage against Tatum, but it’s not as if Tatum was giving up easy looks. All of Doncic’s attempts were jump shots with a hand in his face. He made some tough ones, and that is going to happen no matter who is guarding him. 

Tatum also helped force Doncic into three of his eight uncharacteristic turnovers in Game 2 while acting as his primary defender. Doncic has not been able to get much separation in that matchup, and it has forced him into making some no-hope passes. 

Tatum’s versatility on defense has been one of the biggest reasons why the Celtics have held the Mavericks to a paltry 93.5 points per game during the Finals.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla has put Tatum on opposing centers, and he’s held up well despite giving up a lot of size. That willingness to guard tough matchups and switch everywhere has been the key to Boston’s defense.  

MORE: Kyrie Irving guarantees Mavericks will make it back to Boston for Game 5

Please stop taking so many bad 3s, Jayson! 

Despite all of the little things that Tatum has been doing, his shot selection still needs to be better. He’s been horrific as a pull-up 3-point shooter, hitting just 22.2 percent of his 4.5 attempts per game in these Finals. He’s also uncharacteristically missed several layups when he has tried to take it right to the rim. 

Give Tatum credit, though. He hasn’t taken the bait that Jason Kidd set up after Kidd called Jaylen Brown the Celtics’ best player. Instead, he’s put his ego aside and made the right plays most of the time. 

“We’re so close to what we’re trying to accomplish,” Tatum told reporters after Game 2. “Why would I let my ego or my need to score all the points get in the way of that?” 

The Celtics are winning these games comfortably, and Tatum is tuning out the noise to make that happen. He probably won’t win Finals MVP unless he improves his scoring, but he will get a much more important championship ring. 

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