Zolak & Bertrand

Mazzulla responds to narrative surrounding Tatum in NBA Finals

"I don't think he's taking a backseat at all."

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If scoring and shooting percentage are your measuring sticks, Jayson Tatum is having a rough 2024 NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics star scored just 16 points on 6 of 16 shooting in Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks, then mustered 18 points in Game 2 on 6 of 18 shooting. He ranks 17th among all players in these Finals with a 31.6 shooting percentage and has made just 28.6 percent of his 3-pointers (4 of 14). Going back to the 2022 Finals, Tatum has been one of the worst high-volume shooters in Finals history, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press.

The Celtics own a 2-0 series lead despite Tatum's shooting woes, however -- thanks in part to his passing prowess. Tatum racked up 12 assists in Game 2 and leads all players in this series with 17 helpers through two games, thwarting Mavs double-teams by finding open teammates like Kristaps Porzingis (20 points in Game 1) and Jrue Holiday (26 points in Game 2).

But as the series shifts to Dallas for Game 3, do the Celtics need Tatum to be more aggressive in finding (and making) shots? That's been a popular narrative on talk shows in the wake of Game 2, and C's head coach Joe Mazzulla isn't having it.

"I think it's unfortunate, first, that making the right play is looked at as taking a backseat," Mazzulla told 98.5 The Sports Hub's Zolak & Bertrand on Tuesday. "I don't think he's taking a backseat at all. I think he's actually been more aggressive by welcoming 2-on-1s, welcoming opportunities to make plays and finding the right balance.

"I think we just look at it differently. I don't think he's taken a backseat. I think he's been super aggressive in manipulating the defense, taking what the defense gives him and making the right play."

To Mazzulla's point, the Celtics are 8-0 this postseason when Tatum scores 23 or fewer points, so he's found other ways to impact winning when his shot isn't falling. While Mazzulla is confident that Tatum can turn it around offensively, he appreciates how his star player is approaching games on the NBA's biggest stage.

"I think it's the classic case of, if you make a couple -- I thought he got some great looks at layups that I thought just kind of rimmed out," Mazzulla said of Tatum's effort in Game 2. "I thought he got great looks, and if those go in, it's a complete dominant performance.

"But I just love his mindset. Like, he goes into every game just figuring out how the defense is guarding him and how he can make the greatest impact, and he's just been amazing for us on both ends of the floor. We've got to continue that."

Tatum has been better offensively on the road this season, averaging 24 points over six games, all Celtics wins. But it sounds like Mazzulla trusts the Celtics superstar to make winning plays, regardless of how many points he scores.

Game 3 is set for Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET in Dallas, with NBC Sports Boston's Celtics Pregame Live beginning at 7 p.m.

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