Celtics-Bulls preview: Tatum benefitting from teammates, environment

Celtics-Bulls preview: Tatum benefitting from teammates, environment

Leading Detroit 84-79 on Sunday, Boston’s Jayson Tatum drained a 3-pointer with less than two minutes to play that gave the Celtics necessary cushion to push back the Pistons’ late-game surge.

It feeds into the narrative that aside from Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum is as clutch a shooter as you’ll find on this Boston Celtics roster in the fourth quarter.

Tatum’s ability to knock down big shots was instrumental in Boston’s 91-81 win over Detroit on Sunday, but it remains to be seen if his late-game clutch play will be needed tonight as the Celtics try and close out their three-game road trip at Chicago which has been among the worst teams in the NBA this season.

And while Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons has been the odds-on favorite for this year’s rookie of the year, Tatum has been a player who has received a significant amount of praise all season.

But in examining Boston’s win over the Pistons, which was aided in part by Tatum’s only make and take in the fourth, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was quick to remind folks afterwards why he was so open. 

“Obviously, the shot he hit, that was off a lot of attention on other guys on the other side of the floor,” Stevens told reporters.

On the play, Marcus Smart had the ball on the court opposite Tatum. Al Horford and Tatum set what looked like a double-screen for Kyrie Irving who made a sharp dive towards the basket. Avery Bradley looped around Horford as Detroit center Andre Drummond reacted to Irving’s dive towards the basket. Horford popped out behind the 3-point line and received a pass from Smart. Tobias Harris, who was defending Tatum, slid over towards a wide-open Horford who then quickly swung the ball to – who else? - a wide open Tatum who did what he does as well as anyone in the NBA and that’s make pressure-packed, fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

“That’s why he was open,” Stevens said. “He (Tatum) benefits from that. And obviously, he’s a good player that we think will get a lot better.”

The same can be said for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen who is averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds which ranks fifth and second, respectively, among rookies this season.

There hasn’t been much buzz about his play this season in large part because the Bulls (5-20) have been so bad.

There are lots of words used to describe Tatum – “bad” certainly isn’t one of them.

This season, he has logged 193 minutes in the fourth quarter according to NBA.com/stats. He’s shooting 66.7 percent from the field in the fourth which is tops among all players who have logged at least 150 minutes in the fourth quarter.

And among players who have taken at least 10 3-pointers in the fourth this season, Tatum is shooting a league-best 71.4 percent from the field.

Kyrie Irving, who has been watching Tatum play since the 19-year-old was a junior in high school, believes Tatum’s unexpected penchant for making 3’s – he’s shooting an NBA-best 52.3 percent on 3’s this season – has more to do with his environment than anything else.

“Coach (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke) utilized him the best he could in the offense last year. I think it was predicated on iso-basketball where he caught it on the elbow and was able to play three (small forward), four (power forward) spot,” said Irving who like Tatum, also played for Duke and under Krzyzewski. “And in high school, he was just bigger than everybody. So, why would he need to shoot threes? So, when you’re as skilled as he is, and you’re now in a high-intense, high-talented offense, you get a lot of open looks where you get your feet set. And I think he’s doing a great job of realizing that teams can run him off the line but he can still get a great look off of penetrating or relocating (behind) the three-point line.” 


No extra motivation for Celtics' Monroe in beating his old team

No extra motivation for Celtics' Monroe in beating his old team

MILWAUKEE – Unlike previous stops in his NBA career, Greg Monroe is no longer saddled with the burden of being the face of the franchise or expected to be a central part of the team’s core.

Drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the seventh overall pick in 2010, Monroe has been a solid but far from spectacular pro with career averages of 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 51.5 percent from the field.

Now, with the Celtics, that’s no longer an issue.

With Boston, the 6-foot-11 center is part of the puzzle rather than a cornerstone which works for all involved and has been one of the many factors weighing in Boston’s favor as the Celtics hit the road with a 2-0 lead against Monroe’s old team, the Milwaukee Bucks, in the best-of-seven series.

One of the big knocks on Monroe was how most of the teams he played on failed to get to the playoffs.

An eight-year veteran, this is only the second time Monroe has been to the playoffs.

The first time?

That was last year, with the Bucks, who were bounced in the first round by Toronto.

The irony of Monroe potentially getting to the second round of the playoffs at the expense of the Bucks is not lost on the veteran big man.

Still, he insists there’s no added motivation or incentive for him in this series against his former team.

“Like I said before, that part of my career is over,” Monroe said. “I’m focused on right now and right now we have to win this series.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines leading into tonight’s pivotal Game 3 in Milwaukee:


Khris Middleton will be the first to tell you that he’s not the quickest defender on the floor. And the numbers will back him up on that assertion, especially when it comes to committing fouls. The 6-foot-8 Middleton leads all players in the postseason with a 5.0-fouls-committed-per-game average. While it is higher than his regular-season average, even then he ranked among the most foul-prone players in the NBA. Among those who appeared in at least 60 games last season, Middleton’s 3.3 fouls committed per game was the fourth-highest average.


The Celtics' second unit has been among the NBA’s most productive since the All-Star break and that trend has continued into the playoffs. Boston’s bench has absolutely dominated this series, outscoring the Bucks’ backups, 68-48. Leading Boston’s backup attack has been Marcus Morris, who by himself has scored 39 points in the first two games – just nine less than the entire Milwaukee bench.


This series thus far has been more about Boston doing the little things, a lot better than the Bucks. Among the areas Boston has been better at, is boxing out which has been key to Boston’s success on both the offensive and defensive boards. In the first two games, nba.com/stats has the Celtics for 66 box-outs compared to 62 for the Bucks. It may not seem like a lot, but a couple more box-outs on Milwaukee’s part may have been enough for them to be coming into tonight’s game in a 1-1 series tie versus this being a must-win game for them now that they’re trailing, 2-0.


After having one of the greatest playoff debuts ever by a Celtics rookie, Jayson Tatum’s scoring wasn’t quite up to par with what we’ve seen from him this season or in Game 1 (19 points, 10 rebounds). He had just four points on 2-for-9 shooting in Game 2. Still, he actually did a lot of really good things for Boston to take control of Game 2 and never let it be in question. Tatum grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists while tallying a game-high four steals and blocking one shot. His ability to impact games in ways beyond scoring, speaks to his growth as a player and understanding of his role within the framework of this roster.


There’s a different gear the best players have to shift into when the playoffs begin. And Jabari Parker simply hasn’t made that change. Not even close. A 12.6 points per game scorer in the regular season, Parker has scored just two points in the two games in this series. He has to be better tonight if the Bucks are to have any shot at getting back in this series.


How to watch/stream Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics, Game 3

How to watch/stream Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics, Game 3

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch Game 3 of the opening round of the NBA playoffs, as the Celtics play the Bucks in Milwaukee. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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