BOSTÓN – When Jayson Tatum hit back-to-back baskets to cap an opening Boston blitz, the TD Garden was at an all-time high.
After climbing back to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics fell flat on their face in the later stages of the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors have won the last three games and claimed the title with a 103-90 victory in Game 6 on Thursday night. It was the first three-game stretch for the Celtics since December, when they were a floundering sub-.500 team that looked nothing like a contender.
Instead, they became one of the best teams in the league, in part due to the brilliance of Tatum, who was voted All-NBA First Team for the first time.
But he finished with just 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting in Game 6, with just one basket in the second half. Tatum was strong early on, scoring the last five points in the opening 14-2 streak. He added a third basket in the first quarter to give the Celtics a 22-16 lead, but those were his last points before being outscored by a 21-point rush from Golden State.
That made it 37-22 early in the second quarter, leaving Celtics fans in a stunned silence, which was broken later in the quarter when they even booed the home team. The Celtics kept fighting and got the fans back in, but they never got particularly close in the second half, in part because of Tatum’s passivity and ineffectiveness. Some fans yelled at him to go get the ball, but even when he did, it just didn’t work down the stretch.
He had a blocked shot midway through the fourth after the Celtics had climbed back into single digits. He was then called for traveling with 3:55 to go as they were running out of chances and didn’t have time to make any more mistakes.
The Celtics’ problems went beyond Tatum. Too many turnovers at times, too much poor execution at others. They were outscored 57-39 in the final quarters of Games 4 and 5, perhaps fatigued by a long playoff run. It took seven games to beat Milwaukee in the second round and seven more to get past Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. That put them in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
But the banner 18 that would put them back at 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 now.