Jayson Tatum's rollercoaster Game 6: Celtics star comes alive in fourth quarter after ice-cold start
The Celtics entered Game 6 in Philadelphia with their backs against the wall, desperate for a win to keep their hopes of returning to the NBA Finals alive.
Superstar forward Jayson Tatum has been struggling as a scorer this entire Eastern Conference Semifinals series, but this specific situation was easy to draw a parallel to last year's playoff run.
In the 2022 NBA Playoffs, the Celtics went into Milwaukee trailing 3-2 in the East Semis, in need of a victory to bring the series back to Boston for Game 7. Tatum delivered the best playoff game of his career, exploding for 46 points to allow the Celtics to fight another day.
Boston needed that version of Tatum to show up in Philadelphia — and it looked like it was never going to come.
Jayson Tatum's ice-cold first-half
For the third consecutive game, Tatum went the entire first quarter without a field goal made. He has missed 19 consecutive shot attempts in the first quarter over the last three games, but Boston still got out to a strong start anyway.
Tatum still couldn't find a rhythm in the second quarter, shooting 0-for-10 from the field. He joined Michael Jordan and James Harden as the only players to shoot 0-for-10 or worse in the first half of a playoff game (since play-by-play was first tracked in 1996-97).
The Celtics still, somehow, led by seven points going into the break.
Jayson Tatum stays quiet in third quarter
Boston led by as much as 16 points in the game but the 76ers began to charge back in the third quarter. Philadelphia took a two-point lead going into the final frame and Tatum was still nowhere to be found as a scorer, shooting 1-for-13 from the field and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc with just three (!) points.
He made contributions in other areas through three quarters — tallying seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal — but the Celtics desperately needed their star to get going if they were going to force a Game 7.
Jayson Tatum's revitalizing fourth quarter
Tatum was able to get to the free throw line twice to start the fourth quarter, finally seeing a few shots go through with four freebies. The Celtics trailed by two points with under five minutes to play when their star forward finally found a groove.
Tatum buried a tough contested 3-pointer to give Boston a one-point lead with 4:14 to go. The Celtics got a stop and Tatum immediately came back down and hit another triple, which sent NBA Twitter into a frenzy of Undertaker memes as the superstar finally came back to life.
Jayson Tatum went OFF in Q4 of Game 6 🔥— NBA (@NBA) May 12, 2023
Celtics force Game 7 on Sunday 👀#NBAPlayoffs presented by @GooglePixel_US pic.twitter.com/bvHuRTOZdh
He hit two more 3s in the fourth quarter, killing any chance the 76ers had to end the series on their home floor.
After scoring three points in three quarters, Tatum single-handedly outscored Philadelphia in the fourth quarter, 16-13, to will Boston to victory. He finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals on what was a forgettable night... until it wasn't.
ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth asked Tatum to describe his confidence level to overcome a slow start during his postgame interview.
"Humbly, I'm one of the best basketball players in the world," Tatum stated.
"Go through struggles, go through slumps. It's a long game. Thankfully, I got some great teammates that held it down — Brogdon, JB, Smart, Al. And they all trusted me and told me to keep taking great looks, it's gon' fall, keep impacting the game in other ways.
"All that matters was we win this game. Give ourselves another chance to come back home for a Game 7."
"Humbly, I'm one of the best basketball players in the world.”— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 12, 2023
- Jayson Tatum. 🗣️
Tatum's fourth-quarter resurgence does exactly that for Boston, giving the Celtics a shot to win this series at the TD Garden against the 76ers on Sunday, May 14th.