Is Jayson Tatum actually the superstar the Boston Celtics think he is?

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Celtics continue to find their progress in the 2021-22 season mired by new issues popping up on a nightly basis.

So far this season, we have already seen the team struggle with pretty much every aspect of the game of basketball at one point or another this season, which probably helps explain why they are just 16-17 so far this season. Not to mention, the team is now currently dealing with a teamwide COVID outbreak.

Overall, Boston has generally done a good job at solving these issues. The problem is new ones flair up on a seemingly nightly basis now, and before those can be fixed, new issues pop up, putting the team in a seemingly endless cycle of mediocrity. We can now officially add a new issue to the list; the Boston Celtics cannot close out games anymore.

This isn’t exactly a new issue (consider that the Celtics have led at one point in the fourth quarter or overtime in 11 of their 17 losses), but it has become particularly more glaring over the past few games. The Celtics have now thrown away a pair of contests against the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in which they had pretty sizeable leads throughout the fourth quarter.

While other teams seem to rely on their superstars to carry them to victory, such as Joel Embiid did for the Sixers or Giannis Antetokounmpo did for the Bucks, the Celtics can never seem to find anyone to step up for them when the game is on the line. Most of the time, the scoring burden falls on Jayson Tatum, and more often than not, he fails to step up when needed. This begs the question; can the Celtics count on Tatum to produce like a superstar with the game on the line?

The Boston Celtics need Jayson Tatum to step up when the game is on the line

Before we get started, I’ll first say this isn’t supposed to be a knock of Tatum’s scoring abilities. Tatum is averaging 25.6 points per game, which is good for eighth in the league, although he does also average the most shots per game too at this point, with 21.5 per game, so his efficiency still needs to be worked on.

The problem is, when the game comes down to the wire, the ball is often Tatum’s hands. Yet Tatum very often fails to succeed in these situations, whether it be a missed shot or a turnover of some sorts, Tatum just doesn’t seem to be capable of converting in these situations. These are also situations Tatum seems to desire having the ball in his hands, rather than giving it to the hot hand or the open man.

Let’s take a look at the Boston Celtics two previously aforementioned losses against the 76ers and Bucks. Against Philly, Boston kept the Sixers at bay for most of the fourth, and even built up a seven point lead with just over four minutes in the quarter. However, Philly battled back, and proceeded to go on a 18-6 run to close out the game, and pick up the victory.

Tatum struggled for much of this game, but he was particularly brutal in the fourth quarter. He shot just 1/5 in the frame, and committed a costly turnover along the way. On the other hand, Embiid dropped 15 points, and couldn’t be stopped down the stretch on his way to leading the 76ers to a win. One line looks like that of a superstar, and the other doesn’t; I’ll let you decide which is which.

Against the Bucks, things went sideways even quicker. Boston built up a 13 point lead with five and a half minutes left, and proceeded to allow Milwaukee to go on a 21-4 run to close out the game. Once again, Tatum failed to step up and assert himself when his team needed him the most.

Tatum started off the quarter fairly well, dropping seven points to help Boston build up it’s lead. But once Milwaukee went on their run, Tatum disappeared. He missed a pair of stepback three pointers, and committed two costly turnovers. Antetokounmpo scored 12 points despite getting checked in with just five minutes left in the quarter.

Here we see two superstars step up and lead their respective teams to victory. On the other hand, Tatum couldn’t match the level of play from these two stars. Now granted, this doesn’t all fall on him, but Tatum is expected to be the leader of this team offensively, and well, when his team needs him the most, he hasn’t been that guy.

Maybe it’s unfair to place the majority of the blame on Tatum, but it seems like the expectations for him aren’t being met in a way. Yes, he is an elite scorer, but when he needs to put away opposing teams, he cannot do it. Defenses are throwing double teams at Tatum and he’s either forcing terrible shots or turning the ball over.

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Tatum also is just 23 years old, and still has mounds of room to grow, but as of right now, it’s just doesn’t feel like he’s a legitimate superstar in this league. A real superstar can step up and carry his team to victory like Embiid and Antetokounmpo just did against the Boston Celtics. Tatum has done this on occasion, but more often than not, he hasn’t.

Tatum is clearly an elite player, but he has proven he still has tons of room to grow, and his expectations may need to be tempered moving forward.