Jayson Tatum knows he’s got to ‘shoot the ball better’ amidst NBA Finals slump

Celtics

Tatum’s made just 34.1 percent of his field goals so far in the Finals.

Jayson Tatum bounces the ball in frustration as the clock ticks down in the fourth.

Jayson Tatum’s had a rough go of it shooting through the first four games of the NBA Finals.

The Celtics’ leading scorer this season made 28 of his 82 field goals (34.1 percent) so far in the series. Friday’s Game 4 added to Tatum’s shooting woes. He made just 8-of-23 field goals for 23 points in the Celtics’ 107-97 loss to the Warriors, which evened the series.

Oddly enough, Tatum’s actually shot well from deep. He’s made 14 of 31 3-pointers (45.2 percent), meaning he’s shooting just 27.5 percent from within the arc.

Game 4 was a prime example of Tatum’s inside shot vs. his outside shot so far in the Finals. He was 4-of-8 from deep but made just 4-of-15 2-pointers, making just 3-of-9 shots in the paint.

Many of Tatum’s driving layups in Game 4 appeared like he was hunting for contact in order to get to the free-throw line. As the Warriors have collapsed on Tatum when he’s driven to the basket, he shared what he thinks he could do better to defeat that.

“When I do have space, I’m open, I got to take the shot,” Tatum said. “Obviously, any time I hold it too long, they load up and things like that. I think just quick decisions, don’t turn down any open looks, any daylight that I have, just continue to try to make the right pass.

“I had too many turnovers tonight. I think just make quicker decisions.”

Tatum’s had a pair of high-assist games this series, dishing out 13 in Game 1 and nine and Game 2. He had a decent amount in Game 4 (six), but had just as many turnovers.

Tatum harped more on the turnovers he committed rather than the shots he’s getting.

“I don’t think that’s the problem. I mean, I feel like I can get my shot off whenever,” Tatum said when asked about creating space for himself to get open shots. “It’s just making the right play throughout the course of the game, and not necessarily just staring. Sometimes we get it, we all did it at times. We just got to move. I think that’s when we’re most effective, when everybody is moving.

“We move the ball really well, but it’s kind of hard to move the ball when we’re just standing there.”

Celtics coach Ime Udoka shared that he thinks Tatum could have some more “balance” in his shots, saying he could take “some pull-up jumpers, some of those things, instead of going all the way to the rim.” Udoka also thought Tatum and the Celtics were hunting for mismatches a bit too much in their 19-point fourth quarter.

Tatum shared that there has to be other things that work other than getting a favorable matchup in isolation in order to score.

“Yeah, so there’s just a balance,” Tatum said of hunting mismatches. “You don’t want to do it every single play because hopefully you’re getting stops and running out in transition.

“Even when you do find the mismatch, what you want, some guys to still be moving on the backside, not just standing there watching, you know, setting screens, flares, slipping and things like that. It’s kind of hard to score in isolation every single time.”

Celtics starting point guard Marcus Smart offered words of encouragement to Tatum following Friday’s game.

“We just constantly let him know, keep going,” Smart said. “This isn’t your first time being in a slump. Won’t be the last time. You got to figure it out. We trust you, we believe in you. This is what you’re made for. Jayson has to figure it out. We have to do a good job of helping him.

“But, you know, him being the player he is, these are the moments where he has to come alive and figure it out. He will. We don’t know when it is, but we’re sure it’s going to happen soon, we’re ready for it, and we’re here to back him up.”

All in all, Tatum’s tipping his cap to the Warriors for how they’ve guarded him through the first four games of the series.

“I give them credit, they’re a great team,” Tatum said. “They’re playing well. They got a game plan, things like that.

“But it’s on me. I got to be better. I know I’m impacting the game in other ways, but I got to be more efficient, shoot the ball better, finish at the rim better.

“I take accountability for that. I just look forward to Monday. Leave this one behind us. Learn from it, watch the film, things like that, but everybody probably feels like they got to be better, myself included. Just go get it on Monday.”

Tatum’s offensive struggles are just a sign of what’s haunted the Celtics since they swept the Nets in the first round. Since their second-round series against the Bucks, the Celtics are just 3-8 in games they’ve played following a win this postseason. Boston had a prime opportunity to go up 3-1 in the NBA Finals on Friday night, which would’ve given it three chances to win just one game for the NBA title.

Instead, they have to win two out of the next three games in order to capture Banner 18.

“We don’t do this [expletive] on purpose. I promise you, we don’t,” Tatum said when asked if the Celtics were making it harder on themselves than they need to. “We trying as hard as we can. There’s certain things we got to clean up. Obviously turnovers, movement on the offensive end. Would we have liked to have won today and be up 3-1? That would have been best-case scenario.

“But it’s the Finals. The art of competition, they came here feeling like they had to win. It wasn’t easy. I think that’s kind of the beauty of it, that it’s not going to be easy. It shouldn’t be. We know we both want it and we got to go take it.”

“I think that’s just as simple as it is. I just got to be better,” Tatum added. “I know I can be better, so it’s not like I, myself, or my team is asking me to do something I’m not capable of. They know the level and I know the level that I can play at.

“It’s kind of on me to do that more often than not just to help my team in the best way that I can.

“It’s not too much pressure at all. It’s kind of like my job.”

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