Tatum on road trip and team identity-defining week: “let’s move on, let’s try to figure it out”

The Boston Celtics fell to the Dallas Mavericks, courtesy of a Luka Doncic step-back three at the buzzer. The Celtics had done an excellent job of rallying back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter before Marcus Smart hit a go-ahead three-pointer with two minutes left in the game.

However, with just seconds remaining in regulation with the game tied, there was some confusion between Smart and what he perceived Ime Udoka’s game plan to be. That confusion led to the Celtics guard fouling Doncic, essentially costing the Celtics a final offensive possession.

“There was no strategy; it wasn’t supposed to be a foul. A few guys asked me coming out of the timeout, and I let them know. I’ve got to let everybody know and make sure they know. Just a mistake there, I’ve got to communicate that to everybody, so everybody knows,” Udoka said when asked if Smart’s decision to foul was part of the team’s strategy.

Alas, Doncic did what Doncic does and hit an incredibly difficult shot to beat the buzzer, in what was a heart-breaker for the Celtics who were fighting so hard to get back into the game.

“Luka is a great player. I played with him last year, and he hit game-winners quite a few times. It’s tough, but you gotta give credit where it’s due,” Josh Richardson said when asked about Doncic’s nail-in-the-coffin.

“I knew it was coming, but he’s also 6’8″, shoots above his head. It’s tough for pretty much anyone to guard it. Good defense, better offense, so move forward.”

Despite the Celtics’ loss, they still finished their road trip with a 2-1 record, which, considering their game against Dallas was played without the help of Jaylen Brown and Romeo Langford, is a good outcome.

Encouragingly, the game also saw Jayson Tatum snap out of his scoring slump, as he went for 32 points, along with 11 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, while shooting 63.2% from the field and 75% from three on 6-of-8 shooting.

“I’ve put too much time in, too much work to doubt myself or what I’m capable of. My teammates, my coaches, and everybody we play against know what I’m capable of. I guess, you go through stints or periods like that, where things aren’t going how you would like them to go, but you keep working and embrace it, and figure it out,” Tatum said, as he discussed his recent struggles on the offensive end.

“I know our record doesn’t show it. 4-5, 4-6, two double-overtime games, you know, buzzer-beater. We’re a couple of possessions of being 6-3 or whatever, but that’s the beauty of being in the NBA; it’s tough, it’s tough to win on any given night. But we’ve been progressing, playing the right way; we were short a couple of guys tonight. But it’s a good road trip, all things considered.”

Udoka told the media after the game that he had no concerns about Tatum’s struggles and that he would continue to be who he is on offense.

“It’s who he’s always going to be, whether his shot is falling or not. He’s getting decent looks, and we know he’s going to snap out of it anytime. Tonight, was a good night for him overall. Obviously, the shooting percentages are huge but very aggressive; he’s been that whether he’s making shots or not. But with Jaylen down and some guys being out, we expect that from him, but we don’t really need to say anything to him. He’s going to be who he is, we’re just going to call the plays for him to get his shots, and we know they’re going to fall.”

Tatum also spoke on Smart’s comments after the loss to the Chicago Bulls and looked to put the negativity behind him.

“We talked about it and had a team meeting, I guess. But I know how to play basketball. I’ve been doing it a long time, pretty successful at it. I’ve always made the right plays, but I’m not perfect. I’ve got things I can work on. And that’s the good thing about it, as young as I am, and as good as people think I am, I’ve got a lot to improve on, and I’ll be the first one to say that. But I’m always going to play the game the right way, in the way that I was taught, in the way I have been playing my whole life, and that’s never going to change,” Tatum said.

“I think you asking that question, I think you know. I think there are certain things that obviously, as a group, there are certain things I wouldn’t come on here and tell you about our game plan specifically. I think the moral of it is it happened, and you can’t change it. We’re still a team, and we’re still figuring it out. We’re still trying to win games. It’s not like I’m upset or sad about whatever happened. I’m a big believer in whatever happened. You can’t change it. Let’s move on. Let’s try to figure it out.”

In light of Tatum’s recent struggles and the controversy the team has faced out of the gate, the All-Star wing has been posting about his mindset on Instagram, and when questioned on his thought process, gave an insightful answer.

“I understand that I’ve got a platform and that a lot of people look at what I say and what I do, and a lot of kids look up to me. I think addressing, not always just the 60 and 50 point games and those big moments, but that your favorite player struggles, they miss shots, they get in slumps. Understanding that I’m going to figure it out, it’s a process. It is frustrating. Not necessarily worrying about what people say about you, but the pressure I put on myself, the goals I want to obtain. It doesn’t have anything to do with how good people think I am or how bad they think I’m playing. It’s always internal, me trying to be as great as I want to be, that you go through tough times. But not to ever shy away from it, you’ve got to be the same person when your score 60 and the same person when you’re 3-for-15 and losing a couple of games, and everybody is looking at you. I think everybody saw the quote that Dame had, that in tough times you show your true character, and I think that was spot on.”

In just a week, Tatum and the Celtics look in far better shape than when they headed to Orlando and are beginning to form an identity on both sides of the court. Now, with a couple of days rest before facing the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Celtics can go back to the film room as they look to close the gap on a .500 record.

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