Bad shooting nights have been all too customary for Jayson Tatum this season. On Sunday, November 29th, against the Raptors, those shooting woes continued. Tatum knocked down just 2-of-16 shots from the field in Toronto, finishing with a season-low eight points on the night. Over his last three games, the Celtics superstar has a 25.5% field-goal percentage and has topped 15 points scoring just once.
However, unlike in games past, Tatum didn’t let his shot define him against the Raptors. The two-time All-Star went into his playmaking bag, leading the Celtics with 10 assists and helping guide his Cs to a much-needed 109-97 victory. Tatum’s performance marked just the fifth double-digit assist game of his NBA career and just two off of his career-high 12 dimes against the Detroit Pistons in January of 2021 (via Stat Muse).
As you could expect, Tatum’s willingness to pass the basketball is music to the ears of teammate Marcus Smart. Notably (and publically) peeved with Tatum and Jaylen Brown earlier in the season for their tendency of hero ball, Smart delivered a far different take on Tatum’s play following the team’s 11th win of the season.
“It’s been tough for him,” Smart said of Tatum’s slump, via Mass Live. “He’s been doing a good job of really finding guys and we have to reward him for that. That’s only going to open up things for him and Jaylen later in games when we and other players, myself included, can knock down those shots.”
Celtics Role Players Deliver
Tatum’s readiness to play facilitator opened the door for Smart and other role players to leave their mark on the game.
Smart notched 20-plus points for the second time over his last three games. Josh Richardson came off the bench to chip in with 18 points in 27 minutes. With Robert Williams sidelined due to illness, Grant Williams stepped up to the plate, adding 15 points and five rebounds on the night. The latter has now shot a career-best 43.1% from beyond the arc this season, pacing all Celtics players (minimum of 10 3-point attempts).
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Coach Udoka Sings Tatum’s Praises
While Tatum may be struggling to connect on his shot, head coach Ime Udoka is well aware that No. 0’s presence and willingness for team basketball can still positively affect games for the Celtics.
“It was obviously not his best shooting night, but he was playing the right way the whole night,” Udoka said of Tatum. “We know he’s going to draw a ton of attention from them and he just continues to trust his guys and make the right play and that leads to assists. 24 assists on 34 baskets is a credit to him. Almost had half of ours and he’s just gotta, at times, be the guy that’s gonna bait guys out there. Be the decoy to some extent and draw that crowd and you see everybody else pretty much ate off of him tonight. So credit to him for playing the right way, not getting frustrated and then sticking with it.”
Boston still has a ways to go, ranking within the bottom-10 league-wide in offensive efficiency. However, their play against Toronto — and Tatum’s in particular — was a nice sight for a team that just one game earlier was put on blast by Udoka for their selfish court habits.