BOSTON (AP) — When Jayson Tatum made back-to-back baskets to cap a game-opening blitz in Boston, TD Garden was at its strongest.
It sure got quiet in a hurry.
After climbing back to the top of the Eastern Conference, the Celtics fell flat in the closing stages of the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors have won the last three games, claiming the title with a 103-90 win in Game 6 Thursday night.
“It’s just hard to get to this point and not accomplish what we want,” Tatum said. “It hurts.”
He wouldn’t say if his right shoulder did, having occasionally caught it during the playoffs. But he just wasn’t strong on the ball or accurate with his shot like he was in some sensational performances earlier.
“It was just a tough night,” Tatum said.
It was the first three-game slip for the Celtics since December, when they were a failing sub-.500 team that looked nothing like a contender.
Instead, they became one of the best teams in the league, in part because of the genius of Tatum, who was elected to the All-NBA First Team for the first time.
But he finished with just 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting in Game 6, with just one field goal in the second half.
“One thing he always did throughout the season was see a lot of different covers and figure it out. He did that throughout the early series. It was tough,” the coach said. of the Celtics, Ime Udoka. “A very consistent team that did some things to limit it and make others pay.”
Tatum was sharp early on, with the final five points in the first race 14-2. He added a third field goal in the first quarter to give the Celtics a 22-16 lead, but it was their last points before they were overtaken by a slew of 21 straight points from Golden State.
It made it 37-22 early in the second quarter, leaving Celtics fans in stunned silence – which was broken later in the quarter when they even booed the home side.
The Celtics kept fighting and got the fans back in but never got particularly close in the second half, in part due to Tatum’s passivity and inefficiency. Some fans yelled at him to go get the ball, but even when he did, it just didn’t work.
He had a blocked shot midway through the fourth after the Celtics moved up to single digits. Then he was called to travel with 3:55 to go as they were running out of chances and had no time for more mistakes.
The Celtics’ problems went beyond Tatum. Too many turnovers at times, too much poor execution at others. They were outscored 57-39 in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5, perhaps tired from a long playoff streak.
They needed seven games to beat the Bucks in the second round — with Tatum scoring 46 to avoid elimination in Game 6 in Milwaukee — and another seven to move past Miami to the Eastern Conference Finals. It put them in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
But the 18th banner that would put them back at the top of the championship will have to wait.
Next time maybe Tatum and the Celtics will be better. They just weren’t good enough now. And it’s not like Tatum hasn’t proven himself in big moments – he was huge for USA Basketball last summer in the gold medal win over France.
When it was all over Thursday night, Jaylen Brown said he gave Tatum a hug. They became a solid 1-2 tandem, but Brown had to do much of it alone in the end.
“I know it was a tough last game. I know, obviously, it was a game that we felt like we could have won,” Brown said. “It stings that we didn’t play to our potential, this game, the last home game. But it is what it is. You have to learn from it and move on. As difficult as it is , it was an excellent year, a great journey.
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