Celtics need more from Jayson Tatum in one key area entering must-win Game 6

Celtics need more from Tatum in one key area entering must-win Game 6 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- Jayson Tatum led the Celtics in points (36), rebounds (10) and assists (five) Tuesday night at TD Garden. Hard to blame him for Boston's perplexing Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, right?

The eye test tells a slightly different story than the box score -- and may hold the key for the Celtics' hopes of avoiding elimination in Thursday's Game 6.

Scroll to continue with content

Tatum came out flat Tuesday for the second consecutive game, going 0-for-5 in the first quarter with just two points on a pair of free throws. After an 0-for-5 first quarter in Game 4, the Celtics star has now missed 14 straight first-quarter field goals, putting him in dubious territory.

To Tatum's credit, he rallied for 13 second-quarter points in Game 5 and worked through his shooting struggles by attacking the basket. But the damage of Tatum's slow start was already done: Philly raced out to a seven-point first quarter lead, silencing an already-nervous TD Garden crowd and setting the tone for the rest of the night.

"I thought that we came out a little bit flat, if anything. The energy was a little deflated," Celtics wing Jaylen Brown admitted after the game.


Brown has been Boston's first-quarter tone-setter in these playoffs, averaging a team-high 7.8 points on 57.4 shooting in the first 12 minutes. Tatum typically has taken the torch from there, leading the C's in both second-quarter and fourth-quarter scoring.

Celtics Talk POSTGAME POD: Celtics pushed to brink of elimination after Game 5 loss to Sixers | Listen & Subscribe

Tatum is the Celtics' superstar for a reason, however, and they need him to be aggressive from the jump in Game 6 to avoid the slow starts that doomed the team in both Game 4 (19 first quarter points on 29.2 shooting) and Game 5.

"I think we were in a situation of, it's a big game and you want to win and you don't get off to a great start," head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. "I thought we had some really good looks that didn't fall and they made the plays they did, and we weren't able to recover."


The Celtics can't afford to be playing catch-up in a hostile environment Thursday. Recent history suggests Brown will do his part, which places the onus on Tatum to put his early-game shooting struggles behind him and be on his A-game in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Fortunately for Boston, there's a precedent for Tatum delivering in a similar spot: He went a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range in the first quarter of last year's second-round Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks en route to 46 points and a Boston victory.

"You just gotta keep shooting," Tatum said after the game. "Keep that same routine. Don’t think about it, just let it fly."