Jason Tatum is hampered by the Celtics’ failure to make history

Tim BontempsESPNMay 30, 2023, 02:20 a.m. ET4 minutes to read

BOSTON — When Jason Tatum walked to the podium inside TD Garden long after the Boston Celtics saw their season come to an end with a 103-84 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, there was a visible limp from a sprained ankle. He struggled in the opening game.

said Tatum after playing 42 minutes and finishing with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting in the loss, which ended the Celtics’ season and also denied them a chance to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit.

“It was hard to move. Just frustrating, it happened on the first play.”

There was a lot to let the Celtics down, starting with Tatum’s bad luck landing on Heat guard Gabe Vincent on their first possession of the game. But that wasn’t the only thing.

The Celtics followed up their worst 3-point shooting of the season (7-for-35) in Game 6 by shooting 9-for-42 in Game 7 to tie for second-worst performance of the season. Boston has played seven games this season shooting less than 26% from 3-point range, and game six was the only game the Celtics came away with a win.

Meanwhile, Boston watched as Caleb Martin continued his continued assault on the Celtics defense, going 11-for-16 and scoring 26 points, while Jimmy Butler contributed to the Eastern Conference Finals with 28 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals.

The Heat shot 14-for-28 from 3-point range Monday night and have been 28-for-58 over the last two games of the series.

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“We were upset,” Celtics forward Grant Williams told ESPN. “We didn’t play our game from start to finish. Defensively we lost everything and then offensively we were trying to do everything ourselves and didn’t go out of our way.

“You hate that this is the end of your season, especially with the fighting we showed. But the shots didn’t go down either, so that didn’t help… It’s just tough.”

It was a resounding sound for the end of a season that entered Memorial Day with high expectations, after the Celtics recovered from blowing the first two games of the series here at home, then blew out in Game 3 in Miami, with three great performances in a row to move into the brink of history.

But after Derrick White’s brilliant answer to the buzzer gave the Celtics a magical boost to a do-or-die Game 7, their luck seemed to run out.

Even after Tatum sprained his ankle, Boston got off to a fast start, taking an early 9-4 lead. But then the Celtics kept missing…and missing…and missing. Miami responded with a score of 11-2 and never looked back, ending the quarter with a score of 22-15.

Boston never came close to that 7-point margin in the rest of the game.

“[We were] “You miss the shots,” said Marcus Smart, “and then they go down and take the shots.” And they were hitting some shots and they were in a rhythm and we weren’t making up our rhythm.”

Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown had an awful game, finishing with 19 points on 8-for-23 shooting to go along with 8 turnovers, as his frequent forcing an offensive move was emblematic of how Boston played all night.

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Now, the Celtics are heading into the offseason after failing to make a trip back to the NBA Finals — something the team said as a goal dating back to last June’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors — and they’re going to have to see where we go from here.

Coach Joe Mazzola will go through a full season of prep — something he wasn’t heading into in his senior season, having been put on the job days before training camp began after his predecessor, Emi Odoka, was suspended for violating team rules.

Tatum and Brown both praised Mazzulla for how he handled the season.

“I give Joe my respect,” Brown said. “It’s a tough situation. And he took it head-on and ran with it. We’ve had two rookie coaches in the last couple of years, and Joe would go from Ime as the interim starter and then move up to being the head coach, he totally took that challenge and got us to this point. It’s a tough situation for anyone. It’s a tough situation for the team, coming out of a final run, but we didn’t. I don’t make any excuses and I don’t make any now.

“We are late. But I still pay my respects to the coaching staff and that group we had on the ground.”

As for his future, said Brown — who is eligible to sign a five-year, $295 million supermax extension this summer after making the second team All-NBA — he wasn’t sure how to think about the summer.

“I don’t really know how to answer that question right now, to be honest,” Brown said. “My thought process is take it one day at a time, focus on getting better. Focus on what the future holds and see where we are from there.”

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Meanwhile, White said he will get an MRI on his left leg after he was injured in the second half.

“I mean, I’ll be fine,” White said. “I’m not too worried about it. But I’ll find out more tomorrow.”

Overall, the Celtics left TD Garden with a sense of regret. After a 57-win regular season, they advanced to the Eastern Finals for the fifth time in seven seasons, and climbed all the way from the 3-0 hole to their five-win season to hoist their pennant 18 to the rafters.

And while both Mazzola and the players raved about the solidity of their group, it wasn’t enough to make history on Monday.

“You couldn’t live your life talking about what you could get, you had to,” Tatum said. S—happens and the past is the past.

“We fought like hell to give ourselves a chance today. Just not the result we expected.”

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