Jayson Tatum’s slump could end on Sunday
Jayson Tatum began his NBA bubble career with an appalling performance against the Bucks Friday night. He went 2-for-18 from the field — 1-for-17 if you exclude an accidental Bucks tip in he was credited for — and looked lost on both ends of the floor.
Some of that can be credited to the Bucks, who sport the best defensive rating in the NBA and protect the paint better than any team in recent memory. Some can be attributed to the fact that Tatum hadn’t played in an NBA game in over four months. However you look at it, the rust was real for the Celtics’ rising star and he’ll need to kick his mini-slump before the playoffs.
Luckily for him, Boston plays a Trail Blazers team that could help shake his slow start in bubble play. And why is that? Because Portland has a shortage of wing defenders.
With Rodney Hood injured and out for the year and Trevor Ariza opting out of the restart, the Trail Blazers’ wing depth consists of Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr., Mario Hezonja and Nassir Little. Not exactly an All-Defensive caliber unit.
The Celtics have the luxury of having three All-Star-level talents at the wing in Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, so it’ll be incredibly difficult for the Blazers to hide a suspect defender or two against Boston.
If they go with their usual starting five of Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum-Anthony-Zach Collins-Jusuf Nurkic, Tatum will have one of McCollum, Anthony or Collins as his primary defender. Not one of them has much of a chance to stop him.
Defense has been Portland’s issue all season. They sport a top-7 offense led by Lillard and McCollum, but their 27th-ranked defense has kept them outside the playoff picture. While some of their defensive shortcomings can be drawn back to Nurkic and Collins’ injuries — they gave up the most second-chance points in the NBA this year — their primary wings should give the Celtics free reign on the offensive end.
The Celtics need Tatum to play back into form as one of the best two-way players in the NBA. If he can’t the Celtics probably don’t get past the second round of the playoffs. So while the slump is worrisome after two clunky scrimmages and absolute brick-fest on Friday, it probably won’t be something that lasts too long. It could be over by the time we go to bed on Sunday.
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