There are times when offensive sets involving Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown can appear to be a bit of an adventure, whether it’s Brown booting his own dribble or Tatum firing a pass to nowhere.
But these missteps are hardly indicators of regression. Instead, they’re a result of increased responsibilities as playmakers, and they’re a trade-off the Celtics are willing to make for nights such as Wednesday, when the duo combined for 14 assists and four turnovers in the 116-100 win over the Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
“I feel like this is a year where I’ve been able to play with the ball in my hands a lot more,” Brown said. “[Coach Ime Udoka] has made an emphasis on that. Other years prior, I think my sample size was a lot smaller. I appreciate Ime for having that trust in me and having that belief in me to be, like, ‘No, we’re going to put the ball in his hands.’ Everything else has been just growth from there.”
Tatum has become especially accustomed to double-teams along the perimeter, with teams determined to turn him into a passer rather than a scorer. He has done well finding gaps or simply jumping and firing passes over the defense. And he has always been dangerous getting to the rim.
“Just being aware of when we don’t turn the ball over that much, we’re a really good team,” Tatum said. “Just trying to limit the unforced turnovers and things like that as much as possible.”
Tatum has three seven-turnover games during this postseason and Brown has two. Those numbers are too high, of course, but the Celtics are willing to live with these growing pains as both players continue to mature into complete, two-way stars.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Brown said. “The way I learn things is just by putting me in the middle of it. So, being able to get those reps all season long have helped in the playoffs now, so shout-out to Ime for that.”
Shouldering the load
Just 57 seconds into Game 3, Tatum broke free on a fast break before absorbing a hard foul from Kevon Looney as he went up for a layup. After Tatum’s momentum carried him off of the court, he put his left hand on his right shoulder. Then he walked back under the basket, crouched, and rubbed the shoulder some more before wincing and rotating his right arm several times.
Tatum suffered a shoulder stinger in the fourth quarter of the Game 3 loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. He has not missed any time because of the ailment, but there are moments such as Wednesday when he aggravates it.
Udoka was asked Thursday whether the ailment is affecting Tatum’s finishes. He missed four shots around the rim in Game 3. But Udoka mostly brushed off that possibility.
“It’s a stinger that’s going to flare up whenever he gets hit the wrong way,” Udoka said. “Not sure if it has any impact on him finishing. He is still shooting the ball from three … so I’m not sure it hampers his ability to finish at all.”
Tatum on Thursday was asked what it has been like to play for an even-keeled coach who seems to never lose his cool. A look of surprise briefly flashed on Tatum’s face.
“I don’t know if you all see, he cusses us out a lot,” Tatum said, smiling. “But I guess it’s warranted during the games.
“He always has, from when we were winning and when we were an 11-seed, he still had the same belief in us, in this group, that we could get it done. That’s always something I’ve admired and appreciated about him.”
Extra rest has helped
Robert Williams continues to deal with left knee soreness related to his March 30 surgery to repair a torn meniscus. But after the Celtics played every other night in the conference semifinals, their games have been more spread out during the Finals. They had two days off after both Games 1 and 2, and in Game 3, Williams had one of his best games of the playoffs, registering 8 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 steals.
But there is just a one-day break after Game 3, so Williams could be tested in Game 4 Friday. He is not concerned, as he called Thursday “one of the better days” since his recovery,
“Thankfully, when I get out there on the court, adrenaline, energy is carrying me,” he said.