Jayson Tatum is OK with other Celtics players taking clutch shots
Tatum took the Celtics’ penultimate shot and was supposed to take their final shot in their loss to the Jazz on Saturday despite his struggles from the field.
For at least a couple of seasons, Jayson Tatum’s been the Celtics’ go-to guy for the final shot.
Even in games where Tatum doesn’t shoot particularly well, the star forward still gets the last shot to either tie or win the game. Sometimes, the strategy works, like it did when he hit the game-winning shot against the 76ers in February following a 6-for-16 start from the field.
But the last couple of times, it hasn’t worked. On Monday, Tatum got the ball with the Celtics trailing by two in the final seconds against the Rockets despite shooting 8-for-21 from the field. He missed the layup at the buzzer, giving Boston the loss.
Tatum got a chance at redemption on Saturday. Trailing by one against the Jazz with 35 seconds left, Tatum got the ball and pulled up from 3 to try and take a two-point lead. Tatum’s shot missed, making him 4-for-12 from the field for the game.
The Celtics got another chance though, to take the lead and win the game, trailing by one with five seconds left. Tatum was supposed to get another shot at redemption, too. However, Grant Williams went off-script when he got the inbounds pass, taking the ball to the rim and shooting himself as he was blocked, giving the Jazz the win.
Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said the ball was supposed to eventually land in Tatum’s hands on that play, designing a dribble handoff for Tatum to get the ball from Williams.
Even though Tatum didn’t get the ball on that play, several people wondered why he was set up to get the final shot again while shooting poorly from the field and not someone like Jaylen Brown, who shot 9-for-19 from the field to score 25 points on Saturday.
Tatum said he isn’t demanding to take the shot in those situations.
“I ain’t got no ego or nothing like that,” Tatum told reporters following the loss. “I’m just trying to win. Joe can draw up a play for me, but there are other options.”
On the final play, it appeared Tatum was seeking the ball, or at least wasn’t urgent to get it. He was lined up in the backcourt, appearing to be a decoy to create more open space in the lane.
Williams told reporters after the game that when he got the ball and looked to see who he could pass it to, no one else was open, and Tatum was still in the backcourt, so he felt he had to take a shot with time ticking away.
“There was no avenue in that scenario,” Williams said. “I probably could have shot a floater. Probably the better shot. Or even just trying to get that ball to Sam. But [Lauri Markannen] did a good job of bluffing and getting back out and forcing me into Walker [Kessler].”
Tatum wasn’t upset at Williams, who had his best game in a while as he scored 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting on Saturday.
“They were kind of denying me the ball, and the ball’s in Grant’s hands,” Tatum said. “He just had the option to go [dribble handoff] to somebody else or go attack the basket. We have a baseline of what we’re trying to do. But it’s all about reaction. I don’t have an ego or anything. I wasn’t mad Grant took that shot and didn’t pass it to me. It’s basketball. I want guys to play with instincts and just read the game.”
As for Tatum, Saturday’s game added to his list of shooting struggles over the last month. He’s made just 30.8 percent of his 3-pointers in March, making it his lowest 3-point shooting percentage in any month this season by a few percentage points. His 12 shots on Saturday were also the fewest he’s taken in a game since February 2022 against the Nets.
Tatum believed he was making the right reads as the Jazz constantly blitzed him in the second half, leading him to take just four shots as he didn’t score in the final half.
“They were doubling me and I was making the right play and we were hitting shots,” Tatum said. “I was just playing the game the right way. They were trying to get the ball out of my hands.”
Tatum and the Celtics will look to end their season-long six-game road trip on a good note when they face the Kings on Tuesday night.
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