Celtics

Stars, studs, duds: Jayson Tatum shows atypically ideal skills for rookie

Stars, studs, duds: Jayson Tatum shows atypically ideal skills for rookie

SALT LAKE CITY – Whenever you talk to an NBA rookie, they tend to speak about how the pro game is so much faster, physically and mentally, than what they’re used to. 

As we’ve seen time and time again, this leads to them playing at faster pace than they probably should. 

And then there’s Boston rookie Jayson Tatum whose pace was atypically ideal in Boston’s 81-70 summer league loss to San Antonio on Wednesday. 

Drafted by Boston with the third overall pick, Tatum tallied a double-double against the Spurs with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

“He’s going to be a pretty good player in this league for a long time,” said Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen who is coaching Boston’s summer league team. “As the days pass, I’m beyond being surprised by what he’s able to do on floor.”

The multi-dimensional skillset Tatum was touted as having after one season at Duke, was on full display Wednesday night. 

He scored driving to the rim, from the perimeter on pull-ups and catch-and-shoots, not to mention making a couple of nifty passes for easy baskets for his teammates. 

And making it even more impressive, is he’s doing at a very cool, calm and consistent rhythm that’s uncanny for a 19-year-old in the NBA.

“The game is faster and it is an adjustment,” Tatum said. “What I try to do is play at my speed when I can … that’s where I’m comfortable at.”

And he’s doing this while the coaching staff feeds him and his teammates a steady diet of information at both ends of the floor with limited time to process with the games coming so quickly. 

Tatum takes it all in, showing no signs of being overwhelmed. 

“His soul … he seems so mature and older,” Allen said. “He doesn’t get sped up. He’s physical, he competes, he puts it on the floor … you would be hard-pressed to find another 19-year-old in this country that has the demeanor he has.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday’s game.

STARS

Bryn Forbes: His speed off the dribble and knack for knocking down spot-up jumpers gave Boston fits all game. He led all scorers with 31 points on 12-for-20 shooting.

Jayson Tatum: There would be no late-game heroics tonight for the Celtics rookie, but that doesn’t diminish from what was a second strong showing in as many games. He led the Celtics with 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting along with 10 rebounds.

STUDS

Davis Bertans: He was one of the more consistent shooters, tallying 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting which included 4-for-8 on 3’s.

Abdel Nader: He was the Celtics’ only other double-digit scorer besides Tatum, tallying 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics turnovers: This more than anything else, is what killed them against the Spurs. Boston turned the ball over 19 times with five different players tallying at least two turnovers apiece. Those miscues led to 25 points for San Antonio.

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”

 

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Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

MILWAUKEE – The Celtics are no different than most NBA teams that have successfully defended home court through the first couple playoff games.

As good as things may appear to be, taking what has worked at home on the road is easier said than done.

“We’re up 2-0, but we’ve seen teams lose [series after being up] 2-0,” said Celtics forward Marcus Morris. “So, we’ve got to go to Milwaukee and continue to take care of business.”

And while it may sound like typical coach speak, Brad Stevens has every reason to sound the alarm about this series being far from over, even with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“They’ve got a lot of strengths we’ve got to do a good job against,” Stevens said. “They put you in a lot of tough positions on offense and defense.”

The biggest issue for Boston up to this point has been at the defensive end of the floor where the Celtics have allowed the Bucks to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, which is tops among all playoff teams.

Boston’s defensive rating in the playoffs (105.9) ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the postseason, a noticeable dip from their league-leading 101.5 defensive rating in the regular season.

Still, the Bucks have in many ways been their own worst enemy, averaging a league-high 17.5 turnovers per game which have led to a total of 48 points for the Celtics which is tied with Oklahoma City for the most points scored off turnovers in the playoffs thus far.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s turnovers have accounted for 20.6 percent of the points scored by Boston in this playoff series.

In the regular season, points off turnovers accounted for 17.0 percent of the points scored by the Celtics.

And that doesn’t even include the hustle plays that are also going Boston's way.

According to nba.com/stats, the Celtics have 66 box-outs compared to 62 by Milwaukee. And when it comes to getting loose balls, Boston has the edge there as well, 22-19.

In the postseason, those are the little things that on many nights, is the difference between having a “good try, good effort” loss or one in which you claw and fight your way towards victory.

Boston has played with a deep understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Bucks?

Not so much.

“We just have to be more into it, got to be a more desperate and hungry team,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said following the Game 2 loss.

While the cast of characters who stepped up in Games 1 and 2 varied slightly for Boston, the fundamental keys to Boston’s victories over the Bucks remained very much the same.

But there’s no telling what impact Milwaukee returning home will have on what has worked thus far for the Celtics. 

But one thing all involved know – it can't hurt the Bucks, who know a Game 3 loss would all but end any hopes of moving on to the next round.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE