Celtics Notes: Jayson Tatum’s Steadfast Belief Sparked In-Game Turnaround

Tatum almost had this performance stain his legacy


May 12, 2023

Jayson Tatum and Boston Celtics fans were in all likelihood on the same wave length as the four-time All-Star endured immense struggles in Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers to the point he missed 12-of-13 shots entering the fourth quarter.

“(Expletive), hit a shot,” Tatum told reporters of what was going through his mind, per league-provided video.

But then, when it looked like Tatum would be the main reason Boston’s season would come to an utterly disappointing end, he got a shot to fall. And then another. And then another after that as Tatum came alive over the final six minutes of regulation to rescue the Celtics and lift Boston to a 95-86 victory at Wells Fargo Center.

He scored 16 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter — he outscored the 76ers by himself in that frame alone — and never lost belief in himself that he could leave a positive mark on a must-win game for the Celtics.

“So many things going on in the course of a game,” Tatum said. “I’ve played a lot of games, I know it’s not all about scoring. In that moment, still be aggressive, make the right play. I just kept looking at the time. I kept telling myself, ‘I got time. I got time to make a difference.’ And I believed that throughout the whole game.”

Tatum did not connect on any of his shots in the first quarter for the third straight game and by halftime he was 0-for-10 from the floor. Things didn’t get much better in the third quarter despite Tatum making some contributions in other areas as he finished with nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. But he just tried to stick with things as his teammates simultaneously looked to lift him up.

“Being transparent, that (expletive) was frustrating,” Tatum said. “You want to win so bad. You want to play so well and shots not falling, things not necessarily going your way. And you want it so bad. But trying to stay present, trying to stay in the moment, trying to do other things. And every timeout, every huddle, my teammates telling me, ‘The next one’s going in.'”

Tatum’s first 3-pointer to drop through the net came with 4:14 left and gave the Celtics an 84-83 lead, an advantage they never surrendered. The 25-year-old splashed in two more to widen the gap before hitting a dagger triple with 37.1 seconds to go that had 76ers fans heading for the exits and punctuated an incredible turnaround.

“For 43 minutes I had to hear them telling me how bad I was,” Tatum said. “So, it find of felt good to see everybody getting out their seat, leaving early in that moment.”

Here are more notes from Celtics-76ers Game 6:

— After facing a ton criticism for his coaching decisions in this series — something even Marcus Smart thought was justified — Joe Mazzulla made a move that paid off by inserting Robert Williams into the starting lineup in place of Derrick White. Playing with the starting unit was a welcomed sight for Williams’ teammates as he thrived on both ends of the court.

Williams, who hadn’t started up to this point in the postseason, made the 76ers second-guess their shot selection when they got into the paint and tallied 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes. He finished as a plus-18, tied for the highest mark in the game.

“He’s the kind of guy that just brings a level of joy to his teammates and a level of defensive support,” Mazzulla told reporters, as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “Where the guys can be a little bit more aggressive. The guys can gamble a little bit or just kind of play the game. He does a great job of communicating. He does a great job of giving us that length and athleticism. I thought he was huge tonight.”

— Williams was certainly a big part of the defensive effort as the Celtics held the 76ers to 36.1% shooting and just 13 points in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia hit just one shot from the floor over the final six minutes of play.

— Smart deserves his flowers, too, as he turned in a difference-making effort. He totaled 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting while also recording seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

“He’s a vet guy, a fringe All-Star in this league,” Malcolm Brogdon told reporters as seen on NBC Sports Boston postgame coverage. “He’s been leading this team for years. Led them to the Finals last year. So, he’s ready for this situation.”

— Al Horford, the self-proclaimed “elite shooter,” has vanished. The veteran big didn’t connect on any of his shots again from downtown as he’s 0-for-9 from beyond the arc over the last two games. He finished with just two points and 11 rebounds.

— The Celtics want to play with pace against the 76ers, something they didn’t do in Game 5 but achieved in Game 6. After scoring just five fast-break points in Game 5, the Celtics were much improved in that department facing the must-win situation as they scored 24 fast-break points.

“Right now, the transition game in this series is the difference in all the games,” 76ers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters, per league-provided video. “And they had it tonight.”

— Either the Celtics or the 76ers will advance to the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday — Philadelphia hasn’t reached that stage since 2001. Tipoff from TD Garden is to be determined.

Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart
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