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Friday, July 1, 2022

Gruesome playoff takes toll on Celtics in NBA Finals

SAN FRANCISCO ( Associated Press) — The break-down from back-to-back seven-game series is taking its toll on the Boston Celtics at the worst possible time.

Weary legs have dragged the shot down the stretch in back-to-back losses, leaving the Celtics on the verge of being eliminated in Game 6 of Thursday night’s NBA Finals in Boston.

The Celtics lost 11 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter of their 104-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 on Monday night.

“I had some shots that were short,” said star Jason Tatum. “I just don’t have to fade that much. Use my legs. In the fourth quarter you’re going to be a little more tired than in the first quarter. On a couple of those shots you have to bring your feet down a little bit more. Give yourself a go. Give me a chance.”

The Celtics are the 12th team in NBA history to win Game 7 in back-to-back series before the final, with nine of the previous 11 losing their next series.

The latest defeat mirrored a 107-97 loss in Game 4 when the Celtics shot 30.8% in the final quarter, with Tatum missing four of five shots in both games and missing two free throws on Monday night.

“Part of it may be fatigue,” said coach Ime Udoka. “Spent a lot. Obviously, he was playing 44 minutes, he was one of our main guys. When he was going into third, we got him going in there a little bit more. The bench production wasn’t as fast as ever, so We ran Jason for longer. Some of that fatigue and decision-making may have played a part in the fourth quarter.”

The Celtics had to ride Tatum this post season after beating Brooklyn in the first round. Boston then needed seven games to beat Milwaukee in the second round, including a Road win in Game 6 and a Game 7 Road win in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami.

As a result, Tatum has already played 943 minutes this season, the most for a player since LeBron James played 960 for Miami in 2013.

“It probably has something to do with the omissions,” Udoka said. “Not only free throws but some of his 3-pointers are a bit off.”

Tatum isn’t the only one struggling in the fourth quarter. Running mate Jaylen Brown scored just 1 for 4 in the fourth quarter on Monday as the two stars played for over 44 minutes.

“I wanted to be on the floor,” Brown said. “Imae trusted me to be out there. During the game, we made some good plays. We were in it. I felt like we couldn’t get over the hump.”

Now the Celtics will look to turn their luck back home in Game 6 on Thursday night.

If the Celtics manage to bounce back and become the 10th team to overcome a 3-2 final deficit and the fifth team to do so without both games at home, it would be a historic playoff run.

Only one team has won three Game 7s in a season, with the Lakers winning the title once again in 1988, beating Utah, Dallas and Detroit at home.

Boston would have to do this by winning two Game 7s on the road, something that has never been done after one season.

“You better be confident, right?” Tatum said. “We don’t have to win two in a day. We just have to win one game on Thursday. We’ve been in this position before. So it’s not over. Thursday has to be won. That’s all we have to worry about right now.”


More Associated Press NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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