Jayson Tatum struggling in first Finals appearance

Jayson Tatum has yet to find his rhythm in this NBA Finals — in any way, shape or form. 

Coming into the championship series, the silky 6-foot-8 forward was the breakout star of the playoffs. He averaged 29.5 points and 7.3 assists in Boston’s first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets. In a seven-game series win over the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks in the East semis, he dropped 46 in a must-win Game 6, with the Cs trailing 3-2.

In the Eastern Conference finals against Miami, he put up 25 points and 8.3 rebounds en route to winning the first-ever Larry Bird Trophy for MVP of the East finals. 

However, not much of that momentum has carried over to the Finals when it comes to his individual performances. 

Coming into Boston’s title series against Golden State, Tatum was averaging 27 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists through 18 playoff games. He was shooting 44.6% from the field, 37.6% from 3, and 85.6% from the free-throw line.

But those numbers have shifted against the Warriors. He’s averaging just 22.3 points on 34.1% shooting from the field, highlighted by a 3-for-17 night in Game 1 and an 8-for-23 night in Game 4. He has yet to shoot 45% from the field in a single game this series.

Tatum’s 3-point percentage has gone up (45.2%), as have his assists (7.8) and rebounds (7.0), but he’s shooting just 73.1% from the line, a significant decrease from the first 18 games of the playoffs. 

So far, Tatum has yet to score 30 points in any of the four Finals games. He scored 30 or more at least twice in every series prior to the Finals.

Additionally, in the fourth quarter of these Finals, Tatum is averaging 2.8 points on 25% shooting. That puts him fifth among Celtics players in fourth-quarter scoring and ninth among all players in the series.

Lastly, he’s turning the ball over 3.5 times per game, including six turnovers on Friday night.

The silver lining for Tatum, 24, requires a look into the past. 

At age 22, LeBron James made his first Finals appearance back in 2007 with the Cavaliers and was swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. James put up 22 points, seven rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, shooting 35.6% from the field, 20% from 3 and 69% from the line.

He failed to score 30 or more in any game in that series, and had a 4-for-16 night in Game 1.

Tatum’s idol, Kobe Bryant, had a rough go in his first Finals appearance as well, back in 2000 against the Indiana Pacers. 

At age 21, Bryant averaged just 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists, shooting 36.7% from the field and 20% from distance for the Lakers. He also failed to score 30 or more in any of the five Finals games (Bryant missed Game 3) and shot 4-for-20 in a 33-point Game 5 loss. 

It appears Tatum is just following in the footsteps of his predecessors. The first Finals is always the toughest. 

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