Jayson Tatum Breaks Out of Scoring Slump That Never Defined Him: 'Underappreciated'

Apr 5, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) handles the ball.
Apr 5, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) handles the ball. / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
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Jayson Tatum entered Game 3 against the Cavaliers shooting 38.9% from the field in this Eastern Conference Semifinals series. That includes averaging one made three for every five he was taking, a 20% conversion rate. 

In Boston's first seven playoff tilts, he was connecting on only 40.7% of his shots, including 1.6 of his 5.9 (26.8%) attempts from behind the arc. Both of those are playoff career lows.

As previously explored, that can distract people from the five-time All-Star's all-around impact. And the criticism of him for not scoring more against defenses whose top priority is containing him reaches peak decibel when the Celtics lose.

After generating 33 points, matching Donovan Mitchell for a game-high, and leading Boston to a 106-93 win to take a 2-1 edge over Cleveland in this semifinal series, Tatum addressed his scoring struggles getting greeted by opprobrium while how well he's playing overall this postseason often goes ignored.

"I respect your guys' job; I respect the guys on TV," said the former Duke Blue Devil. "I don't always agree with the things that they say, but when they're fair, and they take emotions out of it, whatever way that they're leaning toward, and they're fair, I respect it. I understand what the media has brought to our game — more eyes, more attention, and how everybody has benefited from that.

"So, I wouldn't say I take it as disrespect – like I said, I don't always agree on what they say. Maybe I feel like they're not watching everything else that I'm doing, but that's not my job to focus on that, right? (To) give it any attention? My job is to be the best player I can be for our team (on) any given night."

And while water finally found its level on Saturday in Cleveland, Tatum also stuffed the stat sheet. That includes grabbing 13 rebounds. He was the only player on either side to reach double digits in that category. His six assists matched Darius Garland for the most in the matchup, and he swiped a steal and blocked a shot.

"Yeah, I would love to make every shot I take, and I know I can shoot better, and I will," voiced Tatum at the podium post-game. "But at this time of the season, as long as we win and we're trending in the right direction, I know me scoring will come. I've done that plenty of times. Just trying to impact the game in other ways and just dominate, and not be defined as just a scorer."

In a testament to his ability to fulfill that mission statement, when asked about what he saw from the star forward in Saturday's win, Jrue Holiday focused on Tatum's defense.

"JT (is) always gonna be JT on the offensive end. But I think defensively, he did a great job. Got some key stops, nice blocks, and some big rebounds. I know that we trust him so much on the offensive end, but defensively is really where I'm so impressed by him. I don't think he gets enough credit on the defensive end."

Joe Mazzulla expressed about Tatum bouncing back and staying aggressive, "It just shows he is a really great player that gets taken advantage of because he's been really good for a long time. Underappreciated. I think he played a great game on both ends of the floor."

And when asked whether scoring 33 points is satisfying, Tatum conveyed the following about his priorities as he guided the Celtics to a bounce-back victory.

"I've done that plenty of times before. I was more focused on us as a team, responding, (and) playing better. The points, like I said – they'll come and go. The poise and purpose that we came and played with tonight – in a great environment. That was fun to be a part of. That was my main focus – making sure we win this Game 3."

Further Reading

Jayson Tatum Leads Bounce Back by Celtics to Take 2-1 Lead Over Cavs

Celtics Discuss 'Unacceptable Performance' in Game 2 Loss to Cavs

Cavaliers Stun Celtics in Series-Evening Route

Shooting Struggles Not Preventing Jayson Tatum from Positive Impact: 'They'll Fall'

Derrick White Discusses Joining Elite Company in Game 1 Win vs. Cavaliers

Jaylen Brown Leads Celtics to Tone-Setting Win in Game 1 vs. Cavaliers

Kristaps Porzingis Discusses Target Date to Rejoin Celtics' Playoff Run: 'Doing Everything I Can'

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.