Celtics showing fatigue late in NBA Finals

Jayson Tatum in Boston Celtics Vs. Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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BOSTON – Warriors forward Draymond Green is playing in his sixth NBA Finals. Green coined the “82-game players vs. 16-game players” framing. He certainly understands what it takes to handle the grueling road to this point.

“You don’t allow yourself to think about fatigue or feel fatigue,” Green said. “You kind of feel that after the series is over. When you’re in the midst of this, you don’t have time to think about it. There’s enough to think about within a series.”

Celtics coach Ime Udoka used the word “fatigue” seven times in his press conference after losing Game 5. Six times in response to questions not directly on the topic!

It was a startling admission. Coaches rarely discuss fatigue at this stage of the year. Especially not a coach as intolerant of excuses as Udoka.

But Boston did look tired Monday.

Nobody more so than Jayson Tatum, who played 45 of 47 minutes before garbage time but shot 1-for-8 in the final 18 minutes. Don’t expect him to rest much more facing elimination in Game 6 tonight, though.

“That’s what timeouts are for,” Tatum said. “…I can rest all summer.

“It’s just mental. You got to fight through that. I’m not the only person that is tired or dealing with injuries or whatever. Last two teams standing.

Yet, nobody has carried a load like Tatum to get this far.

By leading the Celtics to seven-game wins over the Bucks in the second round and Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Tatum has played 3,677 minutes between the regular season and playoffs – substantially more than anyone else this season:

Really, Tatum – who also played for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics last summer – is carrying a burden nearly unmatched in years.

In the 2014 Finals, the Spurs – who were way ahead of the curve on rest – toppled the worn-down Heat, ushering in this current era of load management. Since, only LeBron James in 2017-18 (when he had to do so much to carry the Cavaliers) and Draymond Green in 2015-16 (when the Warriors chased and achieved a record 73 wins) have played more than Tatum in a season. And Tatum should pass Green tonight.

Here are the players with most minutes, regular season and playoff, in a season since 2014-15;

While Boston appears to be slowing, Golden State’s most-used player – Andrew Wiggins – is whizzing to the finish.

“I feel great,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins, by primarily defending Tatum, has helped key the Warriors’ staunch defense. Of course, Wiggins isn’t doing it alone. Led by Green, Golden State has excelled helping and rotating.

The Celtics’ obvious solution: Play faster and face a set defense less often. But that’s easier said than done, especially when already exhausted.

Boston can’t catch it’s breath on the other end, either. The Warriors’ movement offense requires defenses to keep up, and nobody pressures defenders like Stephen Curry. Seemingly tirelessly, Curry runs around screens and everywhere in between (allowing him to help even when shooting poorly).

At their best, the Celtics looked bigger and more athletic than Golden State. Fatigue neutralizes those advantages. Now, older Warriors actually look more spry.

To extend, let alone win, this series, Boston must summon energy not shown late in Game 5. Unfortunately for the Celtics, that’s the type of problem that usually worsens while playing.