Celtics

Jayson Tatum shines in Celtics' 86-81 win over Lonzo Ball, Lakers

Jayson Tatum shines in Celtics' 86-81 win over Lonzo Ball, Lakers

LAS VEGAS -- Danny Ainge has said on more than one occasion that if he couldn’t trade away the number one pick last month, he would have used it to select Duke’s Jayson Tatum, a player Boston wound up getting two spots later in the draft.

After seeing Tatum perform against the top two picks in this year’s draft – Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz and on Saturday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, Ainge might have been on to something.

Saturday was the latest installment in what has been an impressive string of impressive performances for the 19-year-old Tatum who led the Celtics to a 86-81 win over the Lakers.

He led the Celtics with 27 points and 11 rebounds.

In matchups against Fultz and Ball, Tatum not only had better numbers but wound up getting the victory which speaks to both his impact as a player on the game and the bottom line – winning games.

But Tatum’s performance on Saturday was special because it came in front of a packed gym that was predominantly pro-Lakers.

And as the Lakers stormed out to a 10-0 lead to start the game, Tatum’s demeanor never changed.

As Boston chipped away at the Lakers early lead, there were plenty of Celtics chipping in with points or key rebounds or solid defensive stops.

But when it mattered most, it was Tatum delivering the big plays – not Ball who finished with a triple-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

And while it was just a summer league game, it certainly didn’t have the look or feel of one.

As you glanced at the fans sitting courtside during Boston’s Summer League game against the Los Angeles Lakers, larger-than-life athletes such as Floyd Mayweather could be seen.

And the usual cavernous scene high atop the Cox Pavilion Center on the University of Las Vegas campus was filled with fans, a seldom seen sell-out for a summer league game.

They weren’t there to reminisce over the epic battles waged between the two most storied franchises in NBA history.

They were there to see basketball – or rather Lonzo Ball who was selected by the Lakers with the No. 2 overall pick.

When the summer league pairings were set up, this was supposed to be a matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks, presumably point guards Markelle Fultz and Ball.

But the Celtics traded the pick and so folks were left with a matchup that while not nearly as tantalizing, it was nonetheless well worth watching as Boston’s first-round pick Jayson Tatum did his part to keep the crowd engaged.

There were other standouts for both teams, for sure.

But when it came to oohs from the crowd, it was very much the Ball & Tatum show.

While Tatum’s strong showing has been exclusively against summer league talent, current Celtic guard Terry Rozier had a chance to play with him and the other summer league guys before they began playing summer league games.

Rozier liked what he saw, for sure.

“He can play,” Rozier said. “He never played rushed. He just played at his level of pace. He was great. He’s a good player.”

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.

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