If you didn't see Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat on Wednesday night and just looked at the box score afterward, you would think that Jayson Tatum had his usual solid game. Tatum finished the contest with 28 points -- higher than his average output from this postseason -- and also added nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal. However, what the box score doesn't show is that every single one of Tatum's points came in the second half of the game.
Tatum going scoreless in the first half left the Celtics facing an uphill battle, and the Heat were able to build momentum that they were ultimately able to parlay into a 112-109 victory. With the win, Miami took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series over the Celtics, who will have to win three straight games if they hope to avoid elimination at the hands of the Heat. After the game, Tatum accepted the blame for Boston's loss, and acknowledged that he needed to be much more aggressive earlier in the game.
"I wasn't aggressive enough," Tatum said of his play in the first half. "I didn't score in the first half. That's unacceptable. So I knew I had to play better [in the second half], and that's what I tried to do. ... It's win or go home time. I wish we would have played like that from the start. I take a lot of blame. ... I didn't play like myself in the first half. So I've got to be better to start the game off on both ends."
The scoreless half was obviously an aberration for Tatum, who has averaged 11 first-half points over the course of the postseason. He shot 0 for 6, including 0 for 4 from deep, in the first half of Game 4, which certainly came at an inopportune time for Boston. It now sits a single loss away from being sent home from the bubble in Orlando. In order to avoid that fate in Game 5, the Celtics will need Tatum to come out focused, and in attack mode
For what it's worth, Celtics coach Brad Stevens didn't seem overly concerned about Tatum's poor first half, especially since he was able to turn things around in such a major way after halftime.
"It's basketball," Stevens said when asked why Tatum's first half was so far off his usual standard. "I don't want to oversimplify it, but we've all had nights where you don't feel like it's going for you. Then you go into the break -- or you've seen great players do that, at least -- where they go into the break and they can just reset, see one go through the net, and then they go.
"I think that's all Jayson needed to see. He was way more assertive, way more aggressive in the second half. But it was probably because he felt a lot better about it. He was, for whatever reason, I thought in the first half just struggling to find the net, and then it only takes a great player once or twice to get their confidence rolling."
No player is perfect every night, and given how good Tatum has been over the course of his young career, it's easy to forget that he's still just 22 years old, and still in the process of growing his game. Virtually every great NBA player experienced some bumps in the road in the postseason early in their career, and Tatum is no different. What's important is that he's able to learn from the experience, grow from it and bounce back -- something he'll have to do in Game 5 if the Celtics are going to continue their season.