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Mannix debunks ‘ridiculous' Tatum narrative after Celtics-Bucks

Mannix debunks ‘ridiculous' Tatum narrative after Celtics-Bucks originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Can the Boston Celtics win a title if their best player struggles to deliver when it matters most?

Fair or not, that question has been asked about Jayson Tatum at times this season after he's come up short late in close games. The Celtics star has missed a few shots at the buzzer this season -- a fadeaway jumper in a January loss to the Denver Nuggets stands out -- and is shooting a team-worst 32 percent in "clutch" situations this season (score within five points in the final five minutes).

But if you ask Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, those numbers don't do Tatum justice, and gloss over the All-Star's ability to step up on an even bigger stage.

Mannix joined our Celtics Insider Chris Forsberg on a new Celtics Talk Podcast after Boston's win over the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden to debunk the narrative that Tatum isn't clutch.

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"It’s gotten into the water supply lately that Jayson Tatum is some kind of liability at the end of games, that he’s not the go-to scorer that some of these other teams might have, that you can give the ball to and they can go and make plays. I think that's ridiculous," Mannix said.

"I'm old enough to remember Game 6 of the Philadelphia series last year when, after a cold start, Jayson Tatum was lights-out in the fourth quarter of that game. I'm old enough to remember Game 7 of that series when Jayson Tatum had 51 points.

"You go back two years before, with the Celtics facing elimination (in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Milwaukee), Jayson Tatum had 46. I mean, he had 80-something points in the three games they won against Miami (in the 2023 East Finals) and probably would have had a much better game in Game 7 if he didn't get hurt in the first damn play.

"I know there are some statistics that suggest that Jayson Tatum's clutch time numbers aren't very good, but you know this as a writer: You can always find statistics to back up your argument."

As Mannix pointed out, Tatum had a much more respectable 44.4 percent clutch time shooting rate during the 2023 playoffs and hit 50 percent of his clutch time shots in the 2022 postseason, which included a run to the NBA Finals. So, Tatum has proven he's not afraid of the big moments, and he did all of that before his 26th birthday, which he celebrated earlier this month.

More importantly, Tatum is finding different ways to impact the game down the stretch. After missing his first four shots of the fourth quarter Wednesday night, Tatum attacked the paint to score eight points in the final two minutes, six of which came on free throws.

"This guy is elite. He's a closer," Mannix added of Tatum. " ... He saw a matchup against Malik Beasley and he attacked it. At the end of games that's what I want. That's a winner. That's the guy who can close games for this team."

Also in this episode:

  • What is Mannix’s biggest concern about the Celtics?

  • The importance of Payton Pritchard

  • Should the Celtics want to avoid Miami in the first round?

  • Giving credit to Joe Mazzulla