Coming into the Eastern Conference Finals, the consensus was that the Celtics were in a great spot to get back to the NBA Finals. Despite needing all 7 games to get pas the 76ers, they had homecourt advantage against the Miami Heat, the 8 seed in the East. It was widely believed that the Celtics had the deeper team, and perhaps most importantly, had the best player in the series. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that way. Tatum was vastly outplayed by Jimmy Butler, with no bigger discrepancy in performance than in Game 7, when Jimmy Butler went on the road and led all players in scoring with 28 points. He added 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Meanwhile, Tatum didn’t even have the most points on his tam, finishing with a dismal 14 points on 5-13 shooting.
There’s two questions that can be asked after the Celtics failed to complete the first 0-3 comeback in NBA playoff history:
- Can the Celtics win the championship with Tatum as the lead guy?
- How does this impact Tatum’s legacy?
It’s important to separate these two questions. The answer to the first question is still a resounding yes. He’s shown he can deliver in the biggest moments, as seen in Game 7 against the 76ers. He also led his team within 2 wins of a title last year, and it took the greatest dynasty we’ve seen in decades in the NBA to keep the Celtics from finishing the job. He’s an elite scorer who can rebound, dish to his teammates, and even play defense respectably. The second question is far more interesting. Superstars in the NBA on a team with legitimate title aspirations can’t lose this series. It’s one thing to lose to Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. But losing to the Heat, at home, is another thing entirely. In fact, it’s fair to say Tatum shrunk in the moment. It may be harsh, but that’s how we judge superstars. This is why they get paid the big bucks and are the players that are expected to lead the entire franchise.
The bottom line is that the regular season doesn’t hold the same weight. Stats don’t matter. It’s ultimately about winning, and Tatum hasn’t done that yet. It will take time for him to overcome this setback, but it’s definitely possible. He’s young enough and surrounded by a great culture. Those are benefits that not every superstar has. Only time will tell if he has what it takes to get himself and his team over the top.