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Jayson Tatum: ‘we gotta get back to having fun’

The Celtics MVP candidate tried to put his finger on what’s lead to a 1-5 stretch.

Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

After their third straight loss and their fifth in their last six games, the Boston Celtics have to take a look in the mirror. Boston fell to the Indiana Pacers in a narrow 117-112 loss, but for an overwhelming majority of the game, the Celtics were trailing. By a LOT.

The Pacers led by as many as 30 points in the first half, the largest deficit since last season for the Celtics. After falling behind 11-5 in the first quarter, Indiana hit the thrusters as they went on a 37-11 run the rest of the quarter. Joe Mazzulla called a single timeout in the quarter at 5:08, after the Celtics fell behind 20-11; they proceeded the rest of the way by giving up a 22-11 run.

Most frustrating of all, the Celtics clawed their way back into the game by playing with significantly more energy in the second half, with Jayson Tatum leading the team with 41 points on 12-of-25 shooting, a game-high 11-of-13 from the line, 4-of-11 from deep along with five rebounds, four assists, two steals, a block, and two turnovers. Despite his herculean efforts, Boston couldn’t make up the deficit after playing so poorly in the first half.

“We gotta learn how to win again,” said Tatum. “I think it’s not as simple as that, but we have to get back to having fun.”

The change in approach for the second half was an encouraging sign for Boston, but if they had played with even half of that energy to start the game, the ending of this game is probably a lot different. Boston was without Marcus Smart as he’s been battling a non-COVID illness, but that certainly isn’t why they lost. Along the same vein as missing Jayson Tatum in Sunday’s loss against the Orlando Magic, both the Pacers and Magic are teams you should beat even with one of your guys on the sideline; they’re both young, up-and-coming teams that are playing .500 or below basketball for a reason.

This isn’t a matter of a lack of talent or communication, it’s a matter of discipline, of mental fortitude. Boston’s rough stretch of games began with their loss to the Golden State Warriors, the same team that surgically dismissed them in the 2022 NBA Finals. The toll that the Finals loss took on the Celtics cannot be understated, and with their recent loss to the Warriors on their road trip, it feels like some old ghosts have come back to haunt them. Many of their key rotational guys from their Finals run haven’t been playing with the same confidence and energy as before, sometimes flat out scared to shoot or prone to mental lapses on both sides of the ball.

“I think we are playing a little timid, a little tight,” said Tatum on the Celtics play as of late. “Basketball is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be loose.” Boston’s superstar isn’t wrong, either. If the second half of Wednesday’s loss is any indicator, they’re entirely capable of playing like they did early in the season again; they’ve hit a mental roadblock. Marcus Smart said in his last postgame interview that the team is trying too hard to be perfect, and that the team puts far too much pressure on themselves to execute.

“I get a sense of...everybody’s wanting to make every shot, myself included,” said Tatum of the team’s offensive inconsistencies. “Our body language when we missed shots and things like that, it’s contagious. That’s just part of it. We’re not gonna make every shot, we’re gonna turn the ball over, it’s just all about how we respond. And as a group, we can’t let it snowball, and that’s what it that’s what’s a domino effect.”

Boston’s biggest issue at the moment is getting in their own heads and undermining all of the confidence and free-flowing offense that made them an elite team to start the season. Now, it’s all a matter of getting back to that. “Relax and take a deep breath,” said Tatum about what the Celtics need to do. “Remember, we’re playing basketball.”

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