During the NBA Finals I’ve filed a review after each game between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, with added emphasis on tracking Our Town’s Jayson Tatum in his pursuit of his first NBA championship. Tatum and the Celtics came up short, with the Warriors sealing a 4-2 series win Thursday’s Game 6 at Boston.

The 6th Game: The Warriors clinched their fourth NBA title in the last eight seasons with a 103-90 triumph at TD Garden. After winning two of the first three games in the NBA Finals, the Celtics were abruptly dismissed by the more experienced Warriors – who won the final three games by an average margin of 11 points.

Four Reasons Why Golden State Won The Series: One of the greatest teams in NBA history did it again, and let’s cite the most important factors in the latest conquest.

1. Championship experience mattered. It mattered in a profound way. Over the past eight seasons Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have been the foundational presence on a GSW team that’s competed in six NBA Finals, winning four times. Andre Iguodala, now 38, was also part of the four championships, but injuries limited him to 19 minutes in this six-game series.

Curry, Green and Thompson have formed the leadership nucleus and shaped an extraordinarily high performance standard in 27 postseason series since 2013. The Warriors won 23 of those 27 series and had an overall winning percentage of .703. This team was too smart, too savvy, too tough and too much for the increasingly overwhelmed Celtics.

2. Curry, Curry, Curry: After scoring 34 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in Game 6, Curry was voted MVP of the 2022 NBA Finals, earning the award without meaningful dissent. In the six games Curry averaged 31.2 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals. He disrupted the Celtics with his buzzing, underrated defense. In 22 postseason games (18 starts) during Golden State’s 2022 championship run, Curry averaged 27.4 points per game to enhance his reputation as one of the all-time great players and unstoppable postseason marvels in NBA history. At 34, this magical 6-foot-2 guard has his powers intact.

Though hobbled by a sequence of injuries, Curry remained the driving force in a quick rebuild caused by the two devastating injuries that removed Klay Thompson from two consecutive seasons. The 2022 Warriors became the first team in NBA history to win the NBA championship only two years after finishing with the league’s worst record (15-50.) With Steph Curry as the heart of your team – shooting threes, outrunning the opposition, directing traffic, making steals, and competing harder than anyone – it doesn’t take long to recover and win another championship.

3. The Golden State defense, directed by Draymond Green, neutralized then paralyzed a younger Celtics squad that became disoriented on offense as the series turned in GSW’s favor. In the final three games the Warriors held Boston to an average of 90.3 points and pressured the Celtics into 56 damaging turnovers.

4. The Warriors made the most out of their rebuild by using the down time to draft or acquire young talent that upgraded the roster with athleticism. Forward Andrew Wiggins was outstanding in this series, averaging 18.3 points and nine rebounds and slowing Boston’s Jayson Tatum with dogged defense. Shooting guard Jordan Poole averaged 17 points during the season and hit timely three-point shots during the Finals. And going forward the Warriors will work three top-15 NBA draft picks into their rotation: small forward Jonathan Kuminga, shooting guard Moses Moody and center James Wiseman.

I’d like to add one more: Steve Kerr is a helluva coach, and the Golden State staff dominated a Boston staff that could not find ways to solve the Warriors’ complex and confusing defensive puzzle.

Jun 16, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) handles the ball against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the fourth quarter in game six of the 2022 NBA Finals at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Four Reasons Why Boston Lost: It wasn’t their time. That’s a cliche, but it’s true. The Celtics didn’t have Golden State’s deep experience or basketball IQ and couldn’t win four games on talent alone.

1. The Celtics turned the ball over 84 times in their four losses in the series. And in the elimination game, the Warriors feasted on 22 Boston turnovers. The Celtics couldn’t fix their most serious and fatal flaw.

“Every possession is purposeful,” Boston center Robert Williams said. “It seemed the other locker room realized that. We didn’t. They had a meaning to everything they were doing.”

2. The Celtics stars did not deliver. I’m referring to Tatum and Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the wings plus point guard Marcus Smart. They combined to commit 45 percent of the team’s turnovers in the series and made a combined 40 percent of their shots from the floor. And all three lost composure too many times – which includes their energy wasted in whining to the officials about calls.

3. The depth disappeared. Grant Williams, Derrick White and Payton Pitchard were mostly non-factors, and big man Al Horford largely failed to come through after scoring 26 in Boston’s Game 1 victory. (Horford usually starts but rotates with Robert Williams at center.) In Boston’s losses in Game 4 and 5, the Celtics were minus 30 with Horford on the floor. Horford scored 19 in Game 6 – but only had four points in 19 minutes in the first half when GSW took control.

4. The Celtics didn’t compete hard enough. I think Golden State took the fight out of the Celts. They were killed on the defensive boards in Game 6, allowing Golden State to pull 15 offensive rebounds. In their Game 4 win at Boston, the Warriors had 16 offensive boards. Weakness by the Celtics in the fourth quarter was a prevalent theme in this series. But the Celtics’ shortage of competitiveness was never more evident than Friday night in Game 6 when the Warriors went on a 21-0 run that made the home team look helpless and hopeless.

Player Of Game 6 And The Series: Curry. Of course. Curry’s four NBA championship rings is one more than Larry Bird and Dwyane Wade, and one fewer than Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan. Curry didn’t need Kevin Durant to win NBA championships. He won an NBA championship before Durant signed with Golden State as a free agent, then won another after Durant moved on. This is a Top 10 player in league history. The Warriors flow through him. He’s the leader of the band that includes mainstays Thompson and Green. But Curry never has needed to go hunting for a championship ring. With the obvious help of his close friends, Curry can collect rings the Golden State way.

“Without him, none of this happens,” Kerr said. “And that’s not taking anything away from (ownership), because they’re amazing owners. They’ve built an incredible organization. Bob Myers, hell of a GM. Our players. We’ve had so many great players. But Steph is ultimately why this run has happened … I’m happy for everybody, but I’m thrilled for Steph. To me, this is his crowning achievement in what’s already been an incredible career.”

Jayson Tatum’s Performance: It’s going to be a long, hot summer for the Chaminade Prep alum as he tries to work through the first national-stage failure of his NBA career. After being named first-team All-NBA and making his third All-Star game this season, the 24–year-old star discovered the downside of excess hype in the NBA’s excessive celebrity culture.

When the international media breathlessly promotes you as the NBA’s Next Great Superstar and billboards the series as a Tatum vs. Curry showdown, nothing is overlooked and nothing is forgiven. Once this gigantic platform is raised – with Tatum placed squarely in the middle – the only thing that counts is an epic individual performance that carries your team to the NBA title.

Tatum did that on several occasions during Boston’s march to the Eastern Conference title, and his NBA Finals platform became more elevated, more scrutinized. And then he fell off, and went down. The face of the franchise is expected to carry the franchise, and when that franchise is the Boston Celtics (17 NBA titles), there’s no tolerance for a breakdown. You are expected to add another championship banner to the rafters and carry a torch that’s been held by Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders, Jo Jo White, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, Tom Heinsohn, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Paul Pierce … and so many others.

In Game 6 Tatum sputtered to the end of a disappointing series on another off-form display, scoring only 13 points on 6-for-18 shooting and never getting to the foul line.

Once again the Warriors made Tatum the focal point of their point-of-attack defense, and he couldn’t function, and he committed another five turnovers for an even 100 during the 2022 postseason.

Tatum spent the final three games of the series (all losses) in a non-comfort zone. But that was just the warmup. Tatum was supposed to be Bird, Havlicek, Tom Brady, Ted Williams, Yaz, Carlton Fisk, Big Papi, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Patrice Bergeron.

Boston fans and media already had made room for Tatum in the New England sports pantheon. So when you let the team down, and you failed to live up to giddy fan-media predictions in Boston … Welcome to hell.

Boston-based Athletic columnist Steve Buckley is a reasonable man and a keen and longtime observer of New England sports. This is what he wrote after Game 6:

Tatum will take a lot of heat because he was supposed to be the talented young Celtic destined to have his big moment. He’s a fine player, but at the moment, he’s not a prime-time player. Nobody would argue with that assessment.

Maybe next year Tatum will be that player. He was nowhere near that player this spring.

Tatum knows that history well.

What he doesn’t know, not yet, is how to make history.”

True. All of it.

“I feel like I could have done a lot of things better,” Tatum said late Friday during a somber session in the interview podium.

For the series, Tatum averaged 21.5 points, down from his average of 26.9 points during the regular season. He shot only 36.7 percent from the floor, and turned it over 23 times. He wasn’t given much open access inside the three-point line, and made only 24 of 76 shots (31.5%) in the two-point area. In Boston’s three–game losing streak that terminated their championship aspirations Tatum made only 7 of 28 shots from the field including 3 of 14 in the fourth quarter.

“You’re an All-Star, All-NBA First Team guy for a reason,” coach Udoka said of Tatum. “This is only the start of how you’re going to be guarded and the attention you’re going to draw. One thing that he’s always done throughout the season was seeing multiple different coverages and figured it out. He did that throughout the first few series. This was one a rough one. Very consistent (Warriors) team that did some things to limit him and make others pay. For him, it’s just continuing to grow and understand you’re going to see this the rest of your career. This is just a start.”

Tatum played with a sore shoulder after suffering a stinger during the Eastern Conference finals against Miami. But he wouldn’t cop an excuse. When asked Friday if the shoulder bothered him, Tatum left it at “it was just a tough night” and wasn’t in the mood to elaborate or exaggerate the level of pain that he may have felt. He did say that no surgery would be required.

Tatum is 24. LeBron James was a bust in his first NBA Finals at age 22 and in his fourth NBA season. In a four-game sweep the San Antonio Spurs limited LeBron to an average of 22 points, 35 percent shooting, and disrupted him into 23 turnovers.

Other big NBA stars have slipped during their first time on the Finals stage. Tatum isn’t alone. And in this postseason he led the Celtics to series victories over Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee) and Jimmy Butler (Miami.)

Golden State put a stop to all of that by stopping Tatum. And when you have such an experienced and brainy team coming at you like sharks, it isn’t easy to find your true-superstar self.

“This is only the start of how you’re going to be guarded and the attention you’re going to draw, Udoka said. “I think this is the next step for him. Figuring that out, getting to where some of the veterans are that have seen everything and took their lumps early in their careers.”

Tatum knows. In five NBA seasons he’s already played in 74 NBA postseason games. He’s already at No. 100 all-time in NBA for most career postseason points, which is pretty amazing. But he Tatum isn’t a finished product. No one wants to hear that, but Tatum is still developing. And now he’s learned something valuable: he must find a way to defeat the absolute best, and in this case the opponent was Golden State. He will study how the Warriors got to him to make him crack offensively. You can count on that; Tatum’s stricken pride will make sure of it.

In the NBA’s ring culture, Tatum won’t stop searching and learning until he gets a ring of his own.

“I got no choice now,” Tatum said. “It’s the offseason. This is tough, getting to this point and not accomplishing what we wanted to. It hurts.”

Thanks for reading …


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Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.