Jayson Tatum sparks Celtics first quarter offense against Cavaliers

On Monday night, the Boston Celtics took down the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers 109-102 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals. With the Cavs without offensive flamethrower Donovan Mitchell, they put up a strong effort but ultimately couldn’t prevail over the Celtics’ three-point shooting finding its level.

Throughout the entirety of the regular season, the Celtics ran a high-octane offense that shattered records and racked up wins. The same mentality and approach that landed them the first seed in the East is the same that’s driven them within one win of punching their ticket to the conference finals for the third straight year.

So much has been made about Boston lacking aggression or drive at times, with superstar Jayson Tatum oftentimes becoming a focal point in that conversation. But in a hard-fought Game 5 victory, Tatum led by example in the first quarter, leading Boston on 6-of-9 shooting (1-of-3 3P), 3-of-3 from the charity stripe, four rebounds and tallying one assist, a steal and a block.

Not only did Tatum tie Derrick White’s recent franchise record, but it was a career playoff high for first quarter scoring as he dropped 16 of Boston’s 37 first quarter points. Tatum also played the entire 12 minutes, which has emerged as a trend since their first round series.

Following the Kristaps Porzingis injury in Game 4 against Miami, Boston has changed up their approach to the first quarter. This isn’t a one-off thing either, as he’s played the entirety of every first quarter since the Celtics sent the Heat packing.

What’s significant about this is Boston’s success hinging on their first quarter performance this postseason. When the Celtics win the first quarter by any margin, they’re a perfect 7-0; when they don’t, they’re 0-2. In Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs, Tatum had 8 points on 1-of-4 from the field (1-2 3P), 5-of-6 from the line along with 5 rebounds and two assists; He had a plus-minus of -2 and a net rating of -20.

Things become more clear when taking a look at Boston’s first quarter performance in their wins as well. Among Celtics starters since Porzingis has been sidelined, Jayson Tatum in the first quarter is 1st in offensive rating (143.7), 2nd in net rating (29.8), 1st in rebounding percentage (16.3%), 1st In Player Impact Estimate (19.1), and 2nd in effective field goal percentage (71.2%) as well as true shooting percentage (74.6%).

Quite simply put, when Tatum plays like the best player on the Celtics to start games, the offense flourishes and the team reaps the benefits of a hot start. Whether it be the chatter surrounding him and his apparent shooting struggles, Tatum has made a concerted effort over the last two games to assert his will onto opponents.

Boston’s top player has left his fingerprints all over the team’s offense, and he’s done it by being aggressive and creating offensive opportunities for himself as well as others.

With their road win on Monday, the Celtics are 1st in first quarter scoring for the playoffs (31.1 PPG) just ahead of the Indiana Pacers (31.0 PPG); both teams finished in those respective positions during the regular season. The biggest deal here is Boston is doing this after losing a starter three-and-a-half games into the playoffs, and have the potential to improve once Porzingis makes his return to play.

The best move right now for the Celtics is to keep Jayson Tatum involved offensively. early and often. I’m not talking about force-feeding him or hunting mismatches, but keep your superstar engaged right from the jump. There shouldn’t be a lot of possessions where Tatum is uninvolved or standing in the corner, and by kickstarting Tatum’s scoring from tipoff, Boston’s offensive gears start turning and everyone benefits.

The Celtics will look to close out the Cavaliers at TD Garden on Wednesday night, 7 PM EST tipoff.

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