SAN FRANCISCO ( Associated Press) — The toll of back-to-back seven-game series could be taking its toll on the Boston Celtics at the worst possible time.
Tired legs have led to late misses in back-to-back losses that have left the Celtics close to elimination heading into Game 6 of the NBA Finals, scheduled for Thursday in Boston.
The Celtics missed 11 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter and fell 104-95 to the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
“I had a couple of shots that fell short,” Jayson Tatum acknowledged. “I just don’t have to jump back as much. I have to use my legs. You’re going to be more tired in the fourth period than in the first. You have to control your legs more on those shots. Give you the chance.”
The Celtics are the 12th team in NBA history to play back-to-back seven-game series before the Finals. Nine of those teams ended up going down.
The most recent loss was similar to the previous one, a 107-97 loss in Game 4, when the Celtics shot 30.8% from the field in the fourth quarter. Tatum missed four of five shots in both games during that stretch — he also missed two free throws on Monday.
“Part of it could be exhaustion,” said coach Ime Udoka. “We expected it quite a bit. Obviously, playing 44 minutes, he was one of our main players. When he was on fire in the third period, we kept him going a little bit longer.”
The Celtics have turned to Tatum more this postseason after sweeping Brooklyn in the opening series. Boston needed seven games to get past Milwaukee in the second round, including a win at home in Game 6.
He played seven in the Eastern Conference final against Miami, which the Celtics ended up winning on the road in Game 7.
This has led Tatum to have played 943 minutes so far in the postseason, the most since LeBron James had 960 with Miami in 2013.
Tatum isn’t the only one struggling in the fourth quarter. His teammate Jaylen Brown went 1-for-4 in the fourth quarter Monday and the two stars played 44 minutes.
On Thursday, in Game 6, the Celtics will try to turn their fortunes around at home.
If they can bounce back, they will become the 10th team to turn around from a 3-2 deficit and the fifth to do so without playing both games at home, capping a historic postseason streak.