The Boston Celtics blew a golden opportunity to get ahead of the Miami Heat on Saturday night. Boston lost Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals despite being at home and facing a Heat team that didn't have Jimmy Butler for all of the second half. A very large part of the reason the Celtics were unable to capitalize was the remarkable disappearing act of Jayson Tatum, who finished with all of 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Tatum has been heralded as the next great superstar scorer, but there's still a lot for him to work out before he rises to the next echelon of certified greats who can propel their teams to championships. This is never more obvious than when Tatum complains to the referees. It's been a consistent problem for him over the last few years. There are several moments throughout every game, no matter the circumstance, where Tatum gives up on transition defense in order to give the referees a piece of his mind. It's happened numerous times this postseason and it drives head coach Ime Udoka up the wall.
He's not the only one annoyed by the antics. Jalen Rose appeared on Get Up this morning and straight-up told Tatum to stop crying to the referees.
This issue is symbolically the last wall Tatum needs to break through. Complaining incessantly to the refs is the sign of a young player trying to demand respect instead of earn it. All the great stars in the NBA snap at referees, to be sure. Working the officiating team is an art form that guys Iike LeBron James and Chris Paul have perfected. The concept of "superstar calls" is probably overblown at this point but it is real. Getting the benefit of the doubt on 50/50 calls is part of making the leap from star to superstar, the same leap Tatum is trying to make these playoffs.
But he isn't getting those calls yet and constantly complaining about it is only hurting his cause. Worse, he lets it get into his head. Tatum's body language takes a nosedive when he doesn't get a whistle on a few consecutive plays. He gets passive. He spends more time yelling at the referees than he does locking down his assignment on nights like Saturday. It not only sets a terrible example for the team he's trying to lead, it actively hurts their efforts to win because they'll have to defend with four guys instead of five one or two possessions every quarter. In the playoffs, that's the difference between winning and going home for the summer.
Tatum's track record after stinkers like the one he put up in Game 3 means he's going to come out firing in Game 4 tonight. He had a similar effort in Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks last series, scoring only 10 points in a two-point loss. Tatum then averaged 33 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the floor for the final four games of the series. In the above segment, Rose wants Tatum to be more aggressive. There's little doubt he can do that much this evening.
But it's unclear if he'll shake his bad habit of crying to the refs. That categorization may seem harsh, yet that's just what he's doing. He's looking over his shoulder after even the most minimal of contact, glaring and complaining. If Tatum just puts his head down and goes to work, good things will happen. He won't get every call he wants. He may not even get a reasonable whistle all game because officiating is hard and we have no idea what they'll call night-in and night-out for the most part. But he won't put his team at a shorthand advantage because he's distracted by the referees. That alone is worth the effort.
Rose is saying what all Celtics fans have been thinking for a few years now. Tatum needs to stop complaining and just get it done.