Jayson Tatum was one of the worst isolation scorers in the NBA last season. This year, he’s been incredible. What changed? The most obvious development is Tatum adding the muscle to absorb contact and create space, like he did against Tyler Herro in the first quarter of Game 1 on Tuesday night.
The other thing was cleaning up his shot selection. The most common misconception (*ahem* Chris Webber) is that modern analytics invalidate all mid-range shots. Attacking mismatches—in the midrange or otherwise—is not only essentially for winning slow, grindy playoff games, but also Boston’s greatest advantage against Miami. Isolating Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on every possession might as well be handing the ball right back. I trust Tatum to adjust, although carrying over his desperate tendencies from the Raptors series is concerning.
However, I would caution people against denouncing “hero” ball every time the Celtics offense struggles. Boston was one of the most isolation-heavy offenses throughout the whole season for a reason. They’re really good at bullying people. Here are some great examples of good old one-on-one bullying:
Jayson Tatum’s game winner over RJ Barrett.
Kemba Walker‘s step back on Giannis.
You can point to any number of times that Boston attacked Herro or Kendrick Nunn in Game 1 to see that they’re capable of finding favorable match ups and exploiting them. But from the last 2:18 of the fourth quarter through the end of overtime, Jayson Tatum was 0-7 from the field. Here are the shots he took:
2:18 - 29-footer after briefly getting Herro switched onto him before Butler switches back to contest. Airball. Not the worst shot since he had some space, but not the best.
1:25 - Turnaround fade away shot just inside the three-point line with 2.2 left on the shot clock and Jimmy Butler in his jersey. That shot drove me to write this article because long, contested two-point shots are what we discussed all last year as a plague to Tatum’s shot selection. A quick dribble followed by a turnaround I can live with. Burning the clock trying to shake Butler is flirting with disaster.
0:00 - 27-foot attempt over Derrick Jones Jr. to beat the buzzer hits the front rim. Again, he had some space because he shot from so far behind the line. Not a terrible look, but still not ideal.
2:13 - Calls for the ball and takes a step back three over Bam Adebayo. While it’s a shot he’s comfortable with, I’m not sure it’s worth it to shoot over one of Miami’s best defenders when Herro and Goran Dragic are on the floor. Also, Bam beats Tatum down the court for a free basket on the other end.
1:06 - Guarded again by Bam, Tatum drives almost to the restricted area before taking another turnaround shot from outside the paint. Miami isn’t defending Grant Williams or Kemba Walker in the corners, and Boston has 14 seconds of shot clock to work with. A kick-out pass doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a shot, but it could probably lead to something better than trying to isolate Bam again.
0:03 - Blocked at the rim by Bam. It’s an incredible block, and the play has much more to do with his incredible defense than anything Tatum did. Still, it’s the third time Tatum challenged Bam in overtime.
0:00 - Miracle turnaround three-pointer after a full-court pass barely misses. Can’t really complain about this one.
Meanwhile, Kemba is roasting Herro and not being guarded by Miami’s best defenders. Look at the separation here:
As usual, I’m looking forward to being blindsided by Stevens’ adjustments in Game 2. For all I know, Romeo Langford is about to play the most minutes off the bench. Whatever the plan is, I hope they stick to attacking match ups for the entire game. However, with Tatum getting a lot of attention from Butler and Adebayo, that responsibility could fall onto the shoulders of Boston’s back court.