Since taking home the All-Star Game MVP, Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum has struggled to find his footing. And in the Celtics’ loss to the New York Knicks on Monday night, shooting woes and a distaste for the game’s officiating led to his first career ejection.
With roughly four minutes remaining in the contest, Tatum took a three-pointer and thought he was fouled. After getting scored on during the ensuing possession, Tatum continued to jaw with the referees, and he picked up his second technical of the game in the process.
“I mean, it’s tough, right? The first one, no call. If you look, it was clearly a foul,” Tatum explained. “And those are the ones that are tough. You get a tech for something that you were probably right about. The second one, I just told him, ‘this was probably the best officiated game I’ve been a part of.’ I tried to give him a compliment. Didn’t go over so well.”
Jayson Tatum was ejected after his second technical foul at MSG. pic.twitter.com/8hUT292rxE— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 28, 2023
Tatum’s frustrations with the officiating were compounded by a rough shooting night. He shot 6-of-18 from the field and 1-of-9 from distance, finishing the night with just 14 points. Combined with his 18-point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, this is just the second time all season Tatum has recorded two straight games with fewer than 20 points.
“It’s a long season. Jayson’s been playing, as we all know, at an MVP level for most of the season,” Celtics big man Al Horford said, discussing Tatum’s rough patch. “And, I mean, if you can go all 82 playing like that, that’s just tough. There’s gonna be ups and downs, and he’s the last guy that I’m worried about. I know what he’s about. My biggest thing with him is making sure that he feels right and that he’s good to go in April once the playoffs start. So, I’m not worried about it. Through the season, you’re going to have an off game here and there, and that’s just a part of it.”
In Boston’s three games since the All-Star break, Tatum is averaging 21.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists but is shooting just 36.7% from the floor and 24.1% from deep.
With Tatum struggling, the rest of the Celtics have been left to pick up the slack. Against the 76ers, they were able to do that, but with Jaylen Brown sidelined against the Knicks for personal reasons, there was even more pressure on Boston’s role players.
Boston shot a combined 9-of-42 (21.4%) from beyond the three-point arc - their worst shooting performance of the season. Needless to say, the goal of stepping up in the absence of stars was not met.
As the shots continued to miss, frustration quickly became apparent. Tatum’s ejection was merely the highlight of the night for a Celtics team that was irritated with the officiating across the board.
“I mean, you talk about it over the course of trying to control things you can’t control. But they’re human,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “They have their emotions. Sometimes they work in positive ways, and sometimes they don’t.”
Being able to string together a run in the face of frustration is a sign of an elite team, and for the majority of this season, the Celtics have been able to do just that. One look at their recent win over the 76ers tells that story.
However, Tatum’s slump and Brown’s absence proved to be too much to overcome in Madison Square Garden on Monday. And once some of the calls began to go the Knicks’ way, everything came together in one giant ball of bitterness.
“That’s something that I feel like we’ve done a good job [at] most of the year. Tonight wasn’t one of those nights,” Horford said. “I feel like it got to us. Right or wrong, I don’t know, but I think it got to us. And it’s something that our team has taken pride [in] all year. I mean, we’ve had some moments, but for the most part, we’re just staying the course and just continuing to play. And I think tonight, we got rattled. We didn’t get some calls, we got a little frustrated - all of us, at different times. So, that’s something that we can’t have happen. And we’re not going to make excuses, and we have to be better than that.”