Underwhelmed by Tatum's first NBA Finals? Consider these LeBron, Kobe stats

Jayson Tatum

When you're a superstar competing in the NBA Finals, there's not much room for error.

Just ask Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, whose inconsistent play has become talk-show fodder after he needed 23 shots to score 23 points Friday night and committed six turnovers in a Game 4 loss to the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden.

Tatum certainly deserves criticism: He's shooting 34.1 from the floor -- dead last among Boston's eight main rotation players -- and disappeared when the Celtics needed him most in the fourth quarter of Game 4 (three points on 1 of 5 shooting).

But before we start questioning Tatum's legacy or comparing him to the brick-laying Draymond Green, a little context is needed.

Tomase: This C's legend proves Tatum still has time to dominate NBA Finals

Tatum is competing in his first NBA Finals in his age-23 season. (He turned 24 in March.) As Green alluded to Sunday, it's pretty hard to thrive at a young age in your NBA Finals debut -- especially against an experienced team like the Warriors, which have been to six of the last eight NBA Finals.

LeBron James likely would agree with that sentiment. James made his first Finals appearance in 2007 under similar circumstances: at 23 years old, in his fourth NBA season and facing a San Antonio Spurs team that had won two of the last four championships.


Here are Tatum and James' stats in their first NBA Finals:

Jayson Tatum vs. Warriors, 2022 (four games): 22.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 7.8 apg, 3.5 TOV, 34.1 percent FG, 45.2 percent 3PT

LeBron James vs. Spurs, 2007 (four games): 22.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.8 apg, 5.8 TOV, 35.6 percent FG, 20 percent 3PT

James wasn't exactly "Peak LeBron" during his first NBA Finals, and the Spurs dispatched his Cleveland Cavaliers in four games. Aside from a slight edge for James in shooting percentage, Tatum has put up the same or better numbers across the board through four games of his first Finals.

We'll add the necessary caveat that Tatum has a stronger supporting cast than James, who dragged a mediocre group of role players -- Drew Gooden, Daniel Gibson, Sasha Pavlovic and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, to name a few -- to the franchise's first-ever Finals berth. But Tatum has more than pulled his own weight during the 2022 playoffs: He leads all postseason players in both points and assists, joining only James, Jerry West and John Havlicek to accomplish such a feat.

If Tatum wants more assurance that he's not alone in experiencing NBA Finals growing pains, he can look to his idol, Kobe Bryant. Here are Bryant's numbers in his NBA Finals debut, which also came in his fourth NBA season at age 21:

Kobe Bryant vs. Indiana Pacers, 2000 (six games): 15.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.2 TOV, 36.7 percent FG, 20 percent 3PT

Again, not very groundbreaking.

That's not say we should let Tatum off the hook completely. As a newly-anointed First-Team All-NBA player, he's expected to deliver in key moments, and if he wants to be considered one of the best players on the planet, he has to better in the last three games of the 2022 NBA Finals.

But even the game's all-time greats -- including Celtics legend Larry Bird -- needed some time to find their NBA Finals footing. The C's just need Tatum to find his as soon as Game 5 on Monday night.