Sports

Jayson Tatum knows his shooting numbers aren't great. The Celtics control the NBA Finals anyway

DALLAS — (AP) — There have been two versions of Jayson Tatum so far in these NBA Finals.

Version One is shooting a dismal 12 for 38 from the field, just 31.6%, the worst percentage by far of any starter in the series between his Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks. Version Two is second in the finals in total rebounds, leads the series in assists and, according to BetMGM Sportsbook, is currently favored to win the NBA Finals MVP award.

Add them up, and the Celtics seem completely satisfied what they're seeing from Tatum, as usual. The Celtics have a 2-0 lead in the finals going into Game 3 in Dallas on Wednesday night, meaning the NBA's best team all season is halfway to an 18th championship.

“I understand that I do need to be more efficient,” Tatum said Tuesday. “I do need to shoot the ball better, I would not disagree with anybody on that. But I’m not letting it bother me. I’m still trying to find ways to impact the game and dominate the game in other areas.”

Getting too deep into Tatum's numbers in this series — or even when adding the 2022 NBA Finals to the totals — isn't a great idea, simply because of the sample size. He's been in a total of eight finals games. It's not enough to draw conclusions.

That said, while the shooting is almost shockingly bad — no player in the last 60 years, with as many shot attempts as Tatum has all-time in NBA Finals play, has shot worse than his .354 clip — he's on pace to do something historic. If his averages of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 8.5 assists hold up through the rest of the series, he'd be the second player to finish a finals with those numbers.

The other is LeBron James, who did it four times.

“Criticism is the ultimate beauty,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It’s a sign of ultimate respect. It’s just a beautiful thing. I really love the way Jayson has handled that. It’s just a testament to who he is.”

It is good news for the Mavericks that they've done well on Tatum through two games.

The bad news, of course, is that it hasn't mattered much. Tatum fills up the box score in other ways, and the Celtics won both games at home to open the series.

“I think he’s one of the best players in the world,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “You’re trying to just make it tough. That’s all you can do, is hopefully guard the first move, guard the second move, guard the third move and contest. Guys are doing that at a high rate, trying to make it tough on him.”

Shooting-wise, these two games in the finals represent the worst two-game span of Tatum's season. He was barely better in games against Denver and Houston in mid-January, shooting 31.7% in those.

The next game after that little stretch saw Tatum score 39 points. The Mavericks should know that one well; it was against them. So, they're likely pretty certain that Tatum's shooting won't stay cold for long.

“Over time you learn how to deal with all the extra noise and attention, whether it’s positive or not so positive,” Tatum said. “You know, I’m a fair, smart person. I know when I’m doing things at a high level. I know when I need to do certain things better. So I’m not, like, oblivious to what’s going on. At the same time, just keeping the main thing the main thing and focusing on trying to win the next game. That’s what’s most important at this time.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

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