While there has been much to be happy about for the Boston Celtics in the opening three games of the NBA Finals, which have the Celtics leading 2-1 heading into Game 4, one lingering concern has been the shooting of Jayson Tatum, who started the series with a 3-for-17 showing that would weigh down anyone’s field-goal percentage, but has come back to go only 17-for-42 (40.4%) over the next two games.
Celtics coach Ime Udoka said the struggles Tatum has had shooting, especially when finishing near the rim, might or might not be related to the shoulder, but the stinger is a worry.
“Jayson, I think it’s a stinger that’s going to flare up whenever he gets hit the wrong way,” Udoka said on Thursday. “Not sure if it has any impact on him finishing. He is still shooting the ball from 3. Just the initial hit where you’ve seen him get — had to shoot some free throws after, might be a little numb there. He is shooting 3s right after, so I’m not sure it hampers his ability to finish at all.”
According to doctors at Sports Injury Central, the Tatum shoulder stingers will come more and more frequently: “This is something that does not go away. … The real concern is the recurring Tatum shoulder issue.”
Tatum Making Only 45.5% of Restricted Area Shots
Tatum, though, is struggling with putting away shots inside. In a bit of an anomaly, Tatum is shooting 43.5% from the 3-point line but only 45.5% from the restricted area, according to NBA.com/stats. Tatum shot 68.0% in the restricted area this season, and there has been speculation that the recurring shoulder injury is to blame for his inability to finish.
Tatum has had a hard time taking contact, because it appears to make the shoulder worse. He has been less willing to attack the rim, his number of attempts in the restricted area dropping to 3.7 here in the Finals. During the regular season, he tried 5.6 shots per game at the rim.
There is a lot to like about Tatum’s floor game, even with the rim struggles. He is still managing to score (28 points in Game 2 and 26 in Game 3) despite extra attention from the Warriors defense. And he’s been outstanding as a passer, averaging 8.3 assists per game. He has also tamed his turnover issues, committing just eight in the three games of the series.
Was Draymond Green Trying to Hurt Tatum?
One thing to watch might be Warriors provocateur Draymond Green giving extra attention to Tatum’s right shoulder, possibly hoping to set off the stinger. That became a Twitter topic in Game 3, especially during this free-throw rebound attempt, in which Green appears to be targeting the injured shoulder.
Green goes hard at Tatum’s inside on the play, which was a routine made free throw. Note the relative nonchalance between Robert Williams and Jordan Poole on the opposite side of the lane.
Tatum first suffered the shoulder injury, it’s believed, during the conference semis against Milwaukee, but the injury got much worse during the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the conference finals against Miami nearly three weeks ago.
At the time, Tatum explained, “My neck got caught in a weird position,” Tatum said. “Obviously, I went down. I felt some pain and discomfort in my neck and down my arm. Went and got it checked on. I started to gain some feeling back, got it checked by the doctors and decided to give it a go.”
Since that game, he has averaged 25.0 points on 41.4% shooting.