(Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

Game 3 rests on the shoulders of Jayson Tatum

Sunday night’s 19-point loss to the Warriors in Game 2 was the worst defeat the Celtics have suffered since the Indiana Pacers beat them by 21 on February 21st, well over three months ago.  The boys are still in great position after a 1-1 split in San Francisco, but an ass-whooping like that leaves plenty to be worked up about.

The one thing I won’t do is complain about the refs.  Draymond Green played like an asshole and basically got away with murder, but after two decades of fandom I’ve finally become numb to the atrocity that is NBA officiating.  If it doesn’t definitively determine the outcome of a game then I’m done wasting any breath on it.  A 30-point loss can’t be entirely blamed on bad calls, so there’s no point in even entertaining that argument.

What we can be concerned about following Game 2 is the Celtics’ turnover numbers, their lackluster third quarters, their 4-4 postseason home record, and which version of Jayson Tatum will show up at the Garden on Wednesday night.

The C’s are 12-2 in the playoffs when they turn the ball over fewer than 15 times.  When they have more than 15 turnovers, they’re 1-5.  In Game 2, they had 19 giveaways resulting in 33 points for the Warriors.  They were also outscored 38-24 in the third quarter of Game 1 and 35-14 in the third quarter of Game 2, so coming out of halftime with more energy is a must.

In Game 1, Jayson Tatum had his third remarkably bad shooting performance of the postseason.  There was the 4-19 showing in Game 3 against the Bucks (10 pts), 3-14 in Game 3 against the Heat (10 pts), and on Thursday night the 24 year-old borderline superstar went 3-17 with 12 points in his Finals debut.  Typically JT bounces back from these off nights in style like he did in his iconic 46-point season-saving Game 6 in Milwaukee, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday.  While he did go 6-9 from beyond the arc, he was 2-10 from two-point range and finished a minus-36.  I’m not usually a big plus/minus guy, but that is the lowest tally in the history of the NBA Finals.  Tatum’s previous career low was minus-33.

Needless to say, the Celtics’ best player needs to be better.  He might be less talented than Tatum, but Jaylen Brown has been the far more aggressive and confident scorer through the first two games of this series.  JT needs to retake that position and let Jaylen be the secondary offensive weapon.

Whether he’s ready for that challenge still remains to be seen.  These were his most recent comments when asked about his status as an elite player in the NBA:

“A lot of people want to debate,” Tatum said. “I guess you just commented about the superstar, whatever that means, right? I’ve seen there’s a huge debate: Is he a superstar or is he not? I want to know where that came from. Did I tweet that? Did I ever say I’m a superstar, I’m on the verge? That never came from me.”

It’s easy to understand not wanting to label yourself as a superstar and let your game do the talking.  All we can do is hope that deep down Tatum does consider himself to be a top 10, maybe even top five player in the league, because that’s how we need him to play the rest of this series.

As for Draymond Green’s antics, Marcus Smart said it best:

“I mean, you respond to fire with fire, right?  We’ve just got to turn around and do the same thing.  If he’s going to come in here and try to be physical, this is our house and we’ve got to protect it.”

The Celtics have not been able to adequately protect their house thus far in the postseason, going 4-4 on the parquet and having to make up for it with a 6-3 record on the road.  But there’s no better way to do so than protecting the basketball, making necessary halftime adjustments, and letting your best player show why he can and should be considered a worldwide superstar.

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