BOSTON — Jayson Tatum has an easy fix for the Boston Celtics to bounce back in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night — and he just needs to play better.
“I mean, I give [the Golden State Warriors] Credit,” Tatum said Friday night after Boston’s 107-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 at TD Garden to tie the series to 2-2. “They’re a great ball. team. They played well. They have a game plan and things like that.
“But it’s up to me. I have to get better. I know I’m impacting the game in other ways, but I have to be more efficient, shoot better, finish better at the rim.
“I’m responsible for that.”
Tatum hasn’t lived up to the standard he’s set for himself in this series. He shot 34 percent from the field, and while he passed the ball beautifully in Boston’s two wins, contributing 22 assists and four turnovers, he had nine assists and 10 turnovers in two losses.
Tatum and the rest of the Celtics short-circuited in the fourth quarter on Friday night, making just two shots in the final seven minutes. That gave Golden State a 21-6 run and even turned the series in its favor.
“We obviously felt like we put ourselves in a position to win the game,” said Tatum, who went 1 for 5 in the fourth quarter. “There’s a lot of things we wish we could have done differently, especially on offense. I think we’ve been too stagnant for everyone late in the fourth quarter.”
However, it all started with Tatum, who won MVP honors in the Eastern Conference finals and was the face of the Celtics. He’s been the opposite of Warriors star Stephen Curry throughout the series, but Curry is unmatched on the court.
That certainly was the case in Game 4, when Curry had 43 points, 10 rebounds and four assists and dominated every second on the floor. Meanwhile, Tatum’s night was emblematic of Boston’s poor decision making for much of the game. He had five turnovers and was a big part of the team’s late offensive stagnation.
When asked if he was putting too much pressure on himself, Tatum said no, he just needs to get better.
“I think it’s pretty simple,” he said. “I have to get better. I know I can get better, so it’s not like me, myself or my team asking me to do something I’m not capable of doing. They know the level and I know the level I can get to. Play.
“I need to do this often and not just help my team in the best way I can. It’s not too stressful at all. It’s kind of like my job.”
When asked what he’s seen from Tatum so far in this series, Celtics head coach Ime Udoka pointed out that he’s looking for fouls rather than trying to get the game done through contact.
“Sometimes he’s looking for fouls,” Udoka said. “They’re a dynamic team in certain games. He’s looking for a way out. Shooting over two or three. It’s a balance of being aggressive and picking your position and doing what he’s done in previous games, It was an eye-opening look to be kicked out.
“It’s an ongoing theme, so to speak. He’s driving layups, being both a scorer and a playmaker. They’ve done a good job of rotating. Sometimes hunting down fouls instead of finishing. I’ve been in a few games so far .”
Going forward, what the Celtics need to see is Tatum, who has been featured time and time again early in the playoffs, such as his 46-point effort in Milwaukee in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Avoid being eliminated by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending champion Bucks.
A similar performance in Game 5 in San Francisco on Monday night could give Boston a chance to close out the series in Game 6 next Thursday.
Tatum said he still believes he and the Celtics can bounce back.
“We didn’t do it on purpose,” Tatum said. “I promise you, we won’t. We’re doing our best. There are things we have to clear up. Obviously turnovers, moves on offense. We want to win today and lead 3-1? That would be the best case scenario.
“But this is the Finals. The art of the game, they come here feeling like they have to win. It’s not easy. I think that’s the beauty of it, it’s not going to be easy. It shouldn’t be.
“We know we all want it and we have to get it.”