The Boston Celtics squeezed by the Miami Heat in a thrilling Game 7 last night to book their place in the NBA Finals. Despite leading the entire way, Boston could not close the door on Miami until the final buzzer sounded, but a win is a win, and they now will compete for a title in a seven-game series against the Golden State Warriors, which starts on Thursday night.
Boston has made it this far and was able to get past the Heat in Game 7 because of Jayson Tatum. Tatum wasn’t at his best for most of the night against Miami, but he was huge when it mattered the most, scoring seven points in the fourth quarter of a game where Boston only had 18 points and won by four points.
Tatum has cemented himself as a legitimate superstar during his incredible postseason run, and the cherry on top would be winning a ring over Golden State. Tatum has been so good that Kendrick Perkins believes that Tatum is putting together a historic postseason run that he could complete with a win over the Warriors:
“I feel like right now, (Jayson Tatum) is on the verge of having one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NBA history. Just think about this for a second. He went through Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round, he went through Giannis Antetokounmpo in the second round, Jimmy Butler, the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and an elite head coach Erik Spoelstra, and now he has an opportunity to take down Steph Curry. If he completes the mission, this will go down as one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history.” - Kendrick Perkins, ESPN.
Tatum has taken his game to the next level for the Celtics this postseason
Tatum has looked like he’s on the verge of becoming a legitimate superstar in the NBA for most of his career. This postseason, he’s finally put all the pieces together and led the Celtics back to the NBA Finals for the first time in 12 years. Consider Tatum’s per-game averages from each series he’s played in so far:
Round 1 (Brooklyn Nets): 29.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.3 APG, 45.6 FG%
Round 2 (Milwaukee Bucks): 27.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 42.1 FG%
Round 3 (Miami Heat): 25 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.6 APG, 47.6 FG%
We all know Tatum is good for at least 25 points per game on an average night at this point, but Tatum has always been a consistent scorer throughout his career. The strides he’s taken in the other aspects of his game have allowed him to reach this superstar status.
When the Celtics needed help on the glass against the Heat, Tatum stepped up and committed to boxing out and getting more rebounds. When they needed him to be more of a passer against the Nets when they would double him, he was able to hit his open teammates. Tatum only averaged 4.4 assists per game during the regular season, so he’s grown as a passer throughout the postseason, as he’s had at least five assists per game in each of the three series he’s played in so far.
Tatum has been superb defensively too. He was the main guy responsible for guarding Durant against the Nets. He played a significant role in slowing down Butler against the Heat, especially during the second half of Game 7. “JT” has managed to go from a scorer to an all-around threat. It’s why Boston is four wins away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Is Perkins’ bold take on Tatum’s playoff run accurate?
Despite all that, Perkins may be jumping the gun a bit by declaring Tatum’s postseason run one of the best in NBA history. Tatum has been great, but he’s gotten a lot of help along the way. It’s also worth noting that he still has to help the Celtics get through the Warriors, which will probably be their biggest test yet.
Everything Perkins mentions in the above quote are team accomplishments. Everyone focuses on the individual matchups, but Tatum didn’t take down Durant, Giannis, or Butler on his own; he got help from his teammates along the way.
Tatum led Boston’s offense and defensive efforts on Durant, but his teammates helped by hitting their open shots and throwing doubles at Durant all series long. Against the Bucks, Tatum didn’t guard Giannis on defense, as it was primarily Al Horford or Grant Williams, and he struggled at times to get separation from Wesley Matthews on offense. Again against the Heat, Tatum had trouble getting open against P.J. Tucker, and he spent a lot of the series not matched up against Butler on defense like he should have been.
As Perkins suggests, Tatum has individually been great, but he is not solely responsible for Boston winning their previous three series. When compared to a recent example, such as LeBron James’ run during the 2018 playoffs with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tatum isn’t a close comparison. James scored 40+ points eight times throughout those playoffs, and considering they got swept by the Warriors in the Finals, they had no business making it that far.
Tatum has been great on his own, but the Celtics are probably on vacation right now without their fantastic supporting cast. Boston has had a challenging path to the Finals, and Tatum has been there leading the charge, but to suggest he’s putting together one of the best playoff performances in NBA history is a bit of a reach. Maybe if he puts together another great series and gets a ring against the Warriors, that will change.