Celtics

Even more expected now from Tatum

Even more expected now from Tatum

For most rookies, that first year in the NBA is one filled with lots of learning. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum is not all that unusual.

Still, with injuries up and down the Celtics roster, Tatum, now 20, will be looked upon to provide more than what we saw this season.

And what we’ve seen this season is pretty good.

Going forward, with players in and out of the lineup because of injuries or just rest, Tatum’s impact has to continue to expand.

We saw an aggressive Tatum at both ends of the floor in the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington and the Celtics will need him to bring a similar attack-mode mentality to the floor tonight against Orlando.

There’s no way to look past his missed free throw at the end of the first OT or his 3-pointer at the end of the second OT that hit the back of the rim and clanged out. 

Between all that, Tatum was getting to the rim whether on a straight-line drive or a spin move along the baseline for a dunk.

It was the kind of performance that, minus the missed free throw, was the kind of game Boston wanted and going forward, will need from the rookie who for most of this season did not play like a first-year player.

When the season began, Tatum talked about trying to fit in and feel out his teammates to see what he can do to help the team be successful.

With most of the guys he tends to play off of (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Smart) dealing with illnesses or injuries, more will be expected of the rookie. 

And whether he’s on the court or not, rest assured Irving will continue to remind Tatum of just how important it is for him to play with a heightened level of aggressiveness.

“I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season,” Irving said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities he’s afforded out there offensively. He can make a huge impact. He’s aware of that. As a developing young player, the best thing he can do is continue to learn how to be consistent. That’s a trait you have to develop over time. I think he’s doing a great job of learning on the fly.”

Here are five other below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics look to be back on a winning track at Orlando:

ROAD WARRIORS
This has been arguably the best season the Celtics have had under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens and a big part of that has been the team’s ability to win on the road. Boston comes in with a 23-9 road record, which is tops in the East and trails only Houston (27-8) and Golden State (25-9) in the NBA.

SHOT-MAKING CELTICS
Boston has been a different team shooting the ball since the All-Star break, with only three teams (Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets) shooting better from the break than the Celtics who have connected on 48.7 percent of their shots from the field. And they face an Orlando team that has struggled in several areas since the break, especially defensively. Opponents are shooting 48.1 percent against the Magic since the break, which ranks 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense.

JONATHAN ISAAC
The book is still out on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, selected with the sixth overall pick in last June. Injuries have limited him to just 23 games this season. And as it turns out, injuries have led to Orlando inserting him in the starting lineup the past four games. For the season he has averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

SECOND-CHANCE POINTS
Injuries have forced the Celtics to play a scrappier brand of basketball. And the upside to that has been noticeably improved play when it comes to creating second-chance scoring opportunities. In fact, Boston is tops in the NBA this month, averaging a league-best 16.8 second-chance points per game.

HORFORD’S BOUNCE-BACK GAME
Al Horford is often criticized for not scoring more points. But that has certainly not been the case this season after Horford has missed a game or two. The first game back from an illness or injury has seemingly brought out the best in Horford as a scorer. In those initial games back to the floor (he has had four of them this year), Horford has averaged 17.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent (7-for-12) from 3-point range.

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Celtics defense reemerges in Game 5

Celtics defense reemerges in Game 5

BOSTON – It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Celtics’ defense has been too good this season to continue to get broken down one game after another by Milwaukee.

And the 92-87 Game 5 win Tuesday night was the breakthrough performance they had been longing for after four straight sub-par performances defensively.

The Celtics held the Bucks to several playoff lows on Tuesday, such as scoring (87 points), field-goal percentage (.348) and three-point shooting percentage (.273).

The return of Marcus Smart certainly bolstered Boston's defense. But more than anything, the Celtics played on a defensive string most of the night which was evident in Boston having a team defensive rating of 87.2 for Game 5 - their best defensive rating in the postseason.

Here are five other takeaways from the victory that gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 Thursday night in Milwaukee:

50-50 BALLS


One of the domino effects of having Marcus Smart back in the lineup in Game 5, was his impact on getting loose balls. According to NBA.com/stats, Smart had two loose balls recovered which was part of Boston corralling 14 loose balls in Game 5 which was a series-high for the Celtics and loose balls recovered.

AL HORFORD


Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all; at least that’s what seems to work for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens in his dealings with Al Horford who made a major impact on Game 5 in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. He had a double-double of 22 points and 14 rebounds, but he also led the team in critical, below-the-radar categories such as contested shots (15) and box outs (12).

SEMI OJELEYE


A last-minute insertion into the starting lineup, Semi Ojeleye’s presence was felt. His defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo was important for Boston, obviously. But he also contributed in other categories, finishing second on the team in contested shots (10) and box-outs (8), the latter being critical to Boston’s continued dominance of the Bucks on the boards.

MORE PLAY IN THE POST


Boston got great mileage out of working in the post, but probably could have gone there more frequently. While the praise of Brad Stevens’ team continued to flow in, Stevens recognized his team has to do a better job at getting action in the post for Game 6. “We’ve got to be better at getting there, to the rim, and making decisions there,” Stevens said. “And I thought we did a good job at times, but we’ve just got to be a lot more consistent at it. Because they’re coming, they’ve got great length, they’re hard to score on. You know, we only threw it in there, I think, a couple times in the fourth quarter, to the post, and we probably need to be better at action and spacing around it.”

LIMITING THE GREEK FREAK'S TRANSITION GAME


There are few in the NBA who can strike fear in a defense the way Giannis Antetokounmpo can when he’s out in transition. Not only did Boston limit him to 10 shots taken, but of his 16 points, only two were of the fast-break variety according to NBA.com/stats. “It was our fifth time playing them,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Giannis, we wanted to limit in transition. And I think we did a pretty good job with that.”

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Rozier: Dust-up with Bledsoe 'just part of basketball'

Rozier: Dust-up with Bledsoe 'just part of basketball'

BOSTON -- For most of this first-round series, one of the most intriguing subplots has been the war of words between Boston’s Terry Rozier and Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe.

It began with Rozier mistakenly referring to Bledsoe as “Drew” Bledsoe, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots.

After Rozier had 23 points in Boston’s Game 2 win, Bledsoe was asked about Rozier.

“Who? I don’t know who the (bleep) that is,” Bledsoe said at the time.

CELTICS 92, BUCKS 87

And ever since then, you got the sense that at some point, tempers would boil over.

Their chippy talk led to some chippy action in the third quarter of Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win on Tuesday night.

With Boston with the ball and leading 52-39, Rozier and Bledsoe exchanged a pair of shoulder bumps, the last of which, from Bledsoe, knocked Rozier towards the baseline out of bounds. That led to Rozier grabbing Bledsoe and tossing him towards official Pat Fraher.

After reviewing the incident, Rozier was called for a technical foul, and Bledsoe was hit with a flagrant-1 penalty that awarded Rozier and the Celtics two free throws and they maintained possession of the ball.

Al Horford was on the floor at the time of the Rozier-Bledsoe dust-up.

“Yeah, emotions are running high, Game 5, both teams are going for it and for our group the biggest thing is just to focus on basketball,” Horford said. “Keep playing and not getting caught up in all of that side stuff.”

Rozier readily admits that this series has become a bit more testy with each passing game, a byproduct of two highly competitive teams wanting the same thing -- to move on to the next round of play.

MORE CELTICS-BUCKS

“That’s why I never overreact,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston after the game. “Where I’m from, this is normal. That’s why I say, we’re out there having fun; two teams that just want to win. It’s all fun to me.”

And as far as the third quarter incident involving him and Bledsoe, Rozier shrugged it off as not being that big a deal.

“It’s just him being aggressive,” said Rozier who like Bledsoe, finished with 16 points in Game 5. “It’s all good; it’s part of basketball.”

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