The Boston Celtics needed to win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to even this series at two games apiece.
So why did they — and, in particular, Jayson Tatum — come out so flat in the first half, an effort that helped doom them to a 112-109 loss to the Miami Heat and to a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series?
They were at a loss for answers afterward.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough,” Tatum said. “I didn’t score in the first half. That’s unacceptable. So I knew I had to play better, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Tatum finished with 28 points, but none of them came in the first half, when he barely looked to shoot and finished 0-for-6 from the field, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He didn’t look to have an explosive burst at any point and would either immediately give the ball up upon getting it or, after taking one dribble inside the 3-point line, would instantly try to pass it to someone else.
But for as passive as Tatum was early, he suddenly kick-started his game late in the third quarter with back-to-back and-1 drives to the rim on Heat forward Jae Crowder. He then briefly helped Boston regain the lead early in the fourth quarter before one of several Tyler Herro scoring bursts in this game put Miami in front for good.
“It’s basketball,” Celtics coach Brad 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.”
But like so many things about Game 4, the Celtics simply got rolling too late.
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