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Is this Tatum stat cause for concern? Celtics star doesn't think so

The best player on the NBA’s best team appears to have an Achilles heel this season.

Jayson Tatum’s late-game offense was in the spotlight again Thursday night after the Boston Celtics’ overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks, during which Tatum missed an off-balance, fadeaway 3-point attempt at the end of regulation that would have won the game for Boston.

After Thursday’s errant attempt, Tatum is now 0-for-6 this season on “buzzer beater” attempts taken in the final five seconds with a chance to tie or take the lead. Expanding out to the final 10 seconds of one-possession games (score within three points), Tatum is 1-for-9, good for an 11.1 percent shooting rate that ranks last in the NBA among players with at least seven attempts in such situations.

Those are concerning numbers for a star player who may find himself in similar situations this postseason. But Tatum believes it’s only a matter of time before he gets a clutch shot to fall.

“I know I’ve missed a couple this year, so I was like, ‘Damn, I gotta be due for one,’” Tatum told reporters after the game, as seen in the video player above.

“I’ve hit a bunch of them in my career so far, but it’s part of it — make or miss league. I really do enjoy being in those situations.”

To Tatum’s point, he has delivered in big moments before. The five-time All-Star hit five “clutch” shots (final 10 seconds, score within three points) on 15 attempts last season, including a game-winning 3-pointer on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers last February. He’s delivered several loud fourth quarters in both the regular and postseason and doesn’t shy away from the spotlight down the stretch.

But Tatum’s issue this season isn’t confidence — it’s shot selection.

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While Tatum has gotten a handful of clean looks late in games, the majority of his nine “clutch” attempts have been heavily contested and away from the basket. Teams know that the ball is going to Tatum on Boston’s final possession, and they’ve been loading up to stop the All-Star forward as a result.

“Give JT the ball and have him make a play for us,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said when asked about the Celtics’ strategy at the end of regulation Thursday.

On one hand, you want your best players to have the ball in big moments. On the other, Tatum isn’t the only star on the floor: His fellow starters — Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick White — are all capable of hitting big shots, as Brown demonstrated by drilling a go-ahead jumper late in overtime off a great pass from Porzingis.

Tatum has continued to evolve as a playmaker and is averaging a career-high 4.9 assists per game. That playmaking shouldn’t stop in the final seconds. The C’s star should feel comfortable setting up his teammates when opponents send double teams, and Mazzulla should feel comfortable drawing up plays that don’t result in Tatum taking the last shot.

The 57-16 Celtics have very few flaws, but late-game execution is one area they need to shore up entering the playoffs — starting with their star player making better decisions in crunch time.

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