Jayson Tatum's rocky NBA Finals debut comes with a silver lining


BOSTON -- Welcome to NBA superstardom, Jayson Tatum.

Fresh off a First-Team All-NBA nod that solidified his place as a top-10 player, the Celtics star arrived on the NBA's biggest stage -- and came up disappointingly short.

After averaging nearly 27 points per game in the regular season, Tatum mustered just 21.5 points per contest in the 2022 NBA Finals. He shot just 36.7 from the floor and committed 23 turnovers, setting an NBA record with 100 turnovers in the 2022 postseason.

With the Celtics needing a transcendent performance to keep their season alive in Thursday night's Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors, Tatum scored just two points in the second half to finish with 13. He shot 24 percent in fourth quarters this series, making just six baskets in six games.

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That's the bad news. The good news is that Tatum has all the motivation in the world entering the offseason.

"You don't want to feel like this again," Tatum said after watching the Warriors celebrate their fourth NBA title in eight seasons on Boston's home floor. "But you want to get back here."

Tatum and the Celtics now know what it takes to win a championship. The 24-year-old outdueled Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler en route to his first NBA Finals berth in his fifth season, but a pesky Warriors defense proved to be his downfall.


While Tatum led the Celtics in assists (7.0), he also led them in turnovers, as Golden State began anticipating his next move and jumping his passes.

Opponents will be watching plenty of NBA Finals tape when they prepare for Tatum next season, and it will be up to the Celtics' young superstar to counteract that by leveling up as a playmaker.

"The growth he showed as a playmaker this year and in certain areas, I think this is the next step for him," head coach Ime Udoka said of Tatum after the game.

"Figuring that out, getting to where some of the veterans are that have seen everything and took their lumps early in their careers. Like I said, very motivated guy that works extremely hard, high IQ, intelligent guy that will learn from this and figure it out.

"I think it will propel him to go forward and definitely motivate him."

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Tatum wouldn't be the first superstar motivated by a less-than-stellar NBA Finals debut. LeBron James averaged 22 points and 5.8 turnovers in his first NBA Finals, a 2007 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. The late Kobe Bryant mustered just 15.6 points per game in his Finals debut in 2000. Those two have nine championships between them.

For him, it's just continuing to grow and understand you're going to see this the rest of your career. This is just a start.

Ime Udoka on Jayson Tatum

In fact, if you're looking for the last player age 24 or younger to lead their team to a title, you'll have to go back to Tim Duncan on the 1999 Spurs.

That may not be much consolation for Celtics fans who felt Tatum and his team blew a golden opportunity against Golden State. If Tatum hit a few more buckets and the C's committed a few less (OK, a lot less) turnovers, Boston absolutely could have won its first title since 2008.

But the upshot is that Tatum just went through a whole lot of adversity on the game's biggest stage, and should be an even better player for it.

"For him, it's just continuing to grow and understand you're going to see this the rest of your career," Udoka said. "This is just a start."