The Golden State Warriors ran riot on the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. The common denominator on the court for Boston throughout their woeful third-quarter showing happened to be none other than Jayson Tatum. Tatum played the entire third quarter for the C’s, a quarter in which they lost 35-14.
As a result, Tatum finished the game with a plus/minus of -36, which is the worst plus/minus in Finals history since plus/minus began being tracked. This number is genuinely indicative of Boston’s struggles throughout the game and shows just how much work they have to do if they want to close out the Warriors over what is now a best-of-five series.
The Celtics are going to need more from Tatum
The first two games of Tatum’s NBA Finals career have been pretty poor. He shot just 3-17 in Game 1, although his 13 assists certainly helped Boston’s offense stay hot throughout the game. And then, in Game 2, he was a part of pretty much every lousy stretch of basketball Boston played.
Now, this isn’t to say the Celtics’ Game 2 loss can be placed squarely on Tatum’s shoulders. He was the only player on the C’s who could consistently score, and his 28 points on 8-19 shooting was a marked improvement from the series opener. But he only had three assists compared to four turnovers, and it felt like Tatum spent most of the game searching for fouls he was not getting.
In the opening two games, the Warriors have gotten consistent production from their star Steph Curry, while Boston has been waiting for Tatum to get going. The C’s will need Tatum to find his form quickly if they want a shot at winning three games before Golden State does.
On the other hand, the Celtics need to help Tatum out
Plus/minus can be a bit of a misleading statistic because it fails to account for many things in the game of basketball. Most importantly, basketball is a team sport; there are five guys on the court for each team, and plus/minus only accounts for how the score has changed with one player on the court. So while Tatum was a -36, it wasn’t all his fault.
A large reason for Boston falling apart was they ran arguably their worst lineup of the playoffs when Golden State got hot. Their lineup to close the third saw Tatum on the floor with Payton Pritchard, Derrick White, Grant Williams, and Daniel Theis. The Warriors threw all their attention at Tatum when Boston had the ball, and nobody else on the floor could step up and score.
That falls on coach Ime Udoka trying to get too cute with his lineup. Boston cut a 12-point Golden State lead in half midway through the third, so Udoka wanted to keep the game close enough for his starters by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. The Warriors promptly reeled off a 19-2 run to close the quarter, which ended the game right then and there.
Of course, it’s worth noting that everyone else in Boston had nothing going aside from Tatum. White and Jaylen Brown were the only other players to score double-digit points, but they both shot the ball horribly. Robert Williams, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart had just two points a piece. Tatum didn’t do a great job of getting them the ball, but his teammates weren’t doing much to help him out even when he did.
Game 1 was the polar opposite because Tatum’s teammates collectively stepped up to pick him up during a horrible game from him. Things won’t be this lopsided moving forward, but for Tatum to be at his best, his team needs to help him out. In Game 1, they did, but in Game 2, they didn’t. Boston will have to be more consistent if they want to win, and it all starts with Jayson Tatum.