“It’s just hard to get to this point and not accomplish what we want,” Tatum said. “It hurts.”
He wouldn’t say if it was his right shoulder after he sometimes grabbed it during the postseason. But he just wasn’t as strong with the ball or accurate as he was during some sensational performances earlier.
“It was just a rough night,” Tatum said.
It was the first three-game drift for the Celtics since December, when they were an insecure under-.500 team that didn’t look like a contender at all.
Instead, they became one of the best teams in the league, thanks in part to the brilliance of Tatum, who made his first All-NBA First Team.
But he finished with just 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting in Game 6, scoring just one basket in the second half.
“One thing he always did throughout the season was to watch a few different reports and figure it out. He did this for the first few episodes. It wasn’t easy,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Very consistent team that did some things to limit it and make others pay.”
Tatum was sharp early on, scoring the last five points in a 14–2 series opener. He added a third basket in the first quarter to give the Celtics a 22-16 lead, but it was their last before an avalanche of 21 consecutive Golden State points.
This made it 37-22 early in the second quarter, leaving the Celtics fans in a stunned silence that was broken later in the quarter when they even booed the home team.
The Celtics continued to struggle and got the fans back in the fight, but never closed in the second half, due in part to Tatum’s passivity and inefficiency. Some fans yelled for him to go get the ball, but even when he did, it just didn’t work.
He blocked a shot midway through the fourth round after the Celtics were all back to single digits. He was then called out with 3:55 left as they didn’t stand a chance and didn’t have time for mistakes.
The Celtics’ problems were not limited to Tatum. Sometimes too many turns, sometimes too much bad execution. They lost 57–39 in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5, possibly due to a long playoff run.
It took them seven games to defeat the Bucks in the second round — Tatum scored 46 points to prevent elimination in Game 6 in Milwaukee — and seven more to defeat Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. This allowed them to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
But the 18th banner, which will return them to the top of the league, will have to wait.
Next time, maybe Tatum and the Celtics will be better. They just weren’t good enough right now. And it’s not that Tatum doesn’t show himself unconditionally in important moments – he played a huge role in US basketball last summer, winning a gold medal over France.
When it all ended Thursday night, Jaylen Brown said he hugged Tatum. They became a strong 1-2 tandem, but in the end Brown had to do a lot of things alone.
“I know it was a tough last game. I know, obviously, it was a game that we felt we could win,” Brown said. “It’s a shame that we didn’t use our potential in this game, the last game on our home floor. But what is, is. You must learn from this and move on. As difficult as it was, it was a great year, a great journey.”
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