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The Golden State Warriors did everything they could to keep Jayson Tatum out of the scoring column in Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night, limiting him to just 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
However, it came at a cost.
The Celtics superstar responded to Golden State’s suffocating double-teams by shifting into playmaking mode, as he helped to create 35 points for his teammates via a career-high 13 assists in a 120-108 win over the host Warriors.
“I just tried to impact the game in other ways,” Tatum said of the adjustments he made against Golden State’s high-pressure defense. “We're in the championship. We're in the Finals. All I was worried about was trying to get a win, and we did.”
A year ago, Tatum may not have been able to shift into a different gear so smoothly, but that was before he evolved into an elite distributor.
Teams are no longer able to take Tatum out of a game by simply loading up on him because he’s learned to make quick decisions and make the right decisions with the ball.
Pairing his developing passing ability with his scoring ability has turned Tatum into a complete superstar, which he has proven in these playoffs by leading all participants in both total points and assists.
“He's an unbelievable playmaker,” said Payton Pritchard. "Obviously we know he can score at the highest of levels. But when you can score and pass like he is … It's a game-changer. It makes teams play you completely different, which in the end if we do our job and hit the shots he's kicking to us, it's going to open up more for him.”
Draymond Green noticed Tatum’s transformation into a more impactful playmaker and he believes it is “a direct reflection of Ime Udoka and the respect that he’s commanded from this team and what he’s taught his guys and how he’s helped them grow.”
Sure enough, Tatum’s playmaking was an attribute that Udoka focused on from the day stepped into Boston’s head coaching position last summer. Turning him into more of a complete offensive weapon benefits the entire team because when his shot isn’t falling, he’ll make sure to create opportunities for his teammates.
“I think that was kind of his message from day one,” Tatum said, “just to challenge me to be the best player that I can be and improve other areas of my game. We watched a lot of film throughout the course of the season of games, just areas, things I could improve on – obviously, playmaking was one. Drawing a lot of attention. Just help the team out as much as possible.”
Marcus Smart, Boston’s primary playmaker, says it has helped tremendously to have another facilitator on the floor, especially at this stage of the season. Tatum has already had 14 five-assist efforts in these playoffs after having 14 such efforts in his first four postseasons combined.
“All year leading up to this we've been kind of grooming and preparing Jayson for these moments where teams are going to key in on you so much that they try to take you out of the game,” said Smart, who had 18 points in Game 1. “You have to be able to make plays and affect the game in different ways.”
Tatum says that he hopes to affect Game 2 more with his scoring, but also knows that he can pull some plays out of his back pocket for when Golden State loads up against him. Having such a development in his game is what has allowed him to take the next step in his superstardom.