Semi Ojeleye

Tatum learning his rookie lessons from Professor Irving


Tatum learning his rookie lessons from Professor Irving

LOS ANGELES -- As good as Jayson Tatum has been for the Boston Celtics this year, he’s still a rookie with a lot to learn.
Part of his education involves understanding what he has to do in order to become an impact player more consistently.
And his teacher?
Why that would be fellow Dukie Kyrie Irving.
Tatum, who had just four points on 1-for-6 shooting in Tuesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, had a strong bounce-back performance on Wednesday with 18 points which included 10 in the third which is when the Celtics began to put some separation between themselves and the Clippers.
Boston has been at its best this season when Tatum has looked for his shot consistently, a sermon that Irving finds himself preaching to the 19-year-old often.
“That’s what we need from him,” Irving said. “We just need him to be like that, have that aggressive mindset. I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season.”
Irving added: “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 takeaways from Boston’s 113-102 win over the Los Angeles Clippers which snapped the Celtics’ four-game losing streak. 


With injuries forcing the Celtics to reshuffle their playing deck, they really needed Rozier to step up and lead the second unit. He was more than up for the challenge, scoring 15 points off the bench to lead Boston’s reserves. But more telling was how good things were for Boston when he was in the game, at both ends of the floor. His offensive rating of 111.9 was second on the team among players who saw at least 10 minutes of court time. And defensively, Rozier had a team-best defensive rating of 79.3. 


It looked like Ojeleye was going to foul out in the first quarter, picking up four fouls in just three minutes, 42 seconds. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens kept him on the floor, gambling that his rookie would figure out how to stay on the floor. Ojeleye did just that, hitting a pair of big 3’s in the second half to help Boston get the win. And his play, particularly his defense, was among the key factors for the Celtics. For the game, Ojeleye had a defensive rating of 83.4 which was second on the team to fellow reserve Terry Rozier.


With no Al Horford, Theis found himself having to battle Clippers big men DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin for long stretches. To Theis’ credit, he battled around the glass all game before finishing with eight points and eight rebounds in about 23 minutes of court time. His defensive rebounding was particularly important because it helped limit the Clippers’ second-chance point opportunities. For the game, Theis had a .304 defensive rebounding percentage which was tops among all players.


That old basketball axiom, “it’s a make-miss league,’ was so on point Wednesday night. The Celtics gave the Clippers very few good looks offensively. The Clippers took 79 shots, 67 of which were contested which translates into 84.8 percent of Los Angeles’ shots involved a Celtics player giving them no freedom or airspace for open looks. But the Clippers’ defense was really good as well. They contested 77 of Boston’s 93 shots, or 82.8 percent.



We’re used to seeing Kyrie Irving take advantage of weaker defenders, but there was a conscious effort by Boston to do the same with other Celtics players. Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier all benefited from isolation-situations that favored them offensively. And to their credit, often that edge was translated into easy points.



Celtics youth working through their growing pains


Celtics youth working through their growing pains

LOS ANGELES – You never like to put too much stock into any particular stretch of the season.

But listening to the Celtics following their 103-95 loss to the now-14 win Orlando Magic, the Celtics head west searching for continuity, a rekindled resolve and maybe most important, a clearer path towards where they are and just how far they can go with this current crew.

So as basketball junkies crunch the numbers, analyze and then over-analyze the data, there’s one factor in all this that has for the most part been ignored in their ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference mountaintop – their youth.

We talk about it in the context of 19-year-old Jayson Tatum who does some amazing things that players who have been in the league for years, do not do.

But as you start to look at tis roster and see players like rookie Semi Ojeleye, 25-year-old fellow rookie Daniel Theis from Germany and Tatum play in crunch time, it’s a reminder that these kids have grown up pretty fast all things considered.

However, they are still prone to make the mistakes of youth and maybe just as significant, have stretches when they just don’t play with the kind of consistency required to be one of the top teams in the NBA.

Boston (34-13) has shown itself capable of playing with the big boys in the NBA, despite being a team littered wit bunch of young pups in terms of experience and chemistry.

And while what many may see as a team that’s trying to find its way through a rough patch of games, that’s not what’s going on.

These are growing pains, the kind that every team goes through to some extent.

But the struggles seem more pronounced with a team with so many young players.

That’s why the idea of adding a player (a shooter please) is one that the Celtics are seriously looking into on all levels of play.

Now mind you, Boston has an $8.4 million disabled player exception from the Gordon Hayward injury which they can use to add a player who is in the final year of his contract.

Most teams let it lapse without using it, but I’m told the Celtics have every intention of using it because as we’ve seen of late, there’s a clear and undeniable need for this team to add a scorer, be it in the frontcourt or on the perimeter.

They need a steady perimeter scorer, the kind of player that can hit the ground but more important, hit shots.

Boston is first going to go the G-League route which has led to them signing Jarell Eddie to a 10-day contract with the hope that he can show more promise than their current roster that’s full of perimeter players who have been inconsistent shooters all season.

Even during their season-best 16 game winning streak and later when they reeled off seven in a row, their success was rooted in good defense and ho-hum offense.

We’re deep enough into the season to have a pretty good feel for who the Celtics are, and yet there’s still enough time for them to make a radical change and still have plenty of time before the postseason arrives.

That’s why this west coast trip is about more than just trying to right the ship; it’s about determining if Danny Ainge needs to switch up the crew with some addition by subtraction.

It’s no secret that the Celtics could use some added depth in a number of areas.

But the most glaring weakness right now is perimeter shooting, which is why Jarell Eddie is here.

The Celtics signed him to a 10-day contract because the players they have already signed to guaranteed deals have been anything but a guarantee to make shots.

And while some perceive that as something lacking in the players, the only thing we know for sure that they lack is experience which is something time takes care of as this Boston team continues to come of age, one youngster at a time.


A. Sherrod Blakely's midseason Boston Celtics grades


A. Sherrod Blakely's midseason Boston Celtics grades

BOSTON -- There’s a balancing act that all teams play when it comes to their schedule, one that involves focusing on the moment but keeping an eye out on what’s on the horizon.

Few teams have done a better job of handling those time continuums, than the Boston Celtics.

They will be the first to hit the official halfway point of the season when they host Cleveland on Wednesday for what will be regular season game No. 41 for them.

Regardless of how the Cavs game plays out, the first half of the season has been a resounding success for Boston on several fronts which includes them having the best record in the East.

To achieve that kind of success requires the contributions of many in a way that stands out both individually and as a collective group.

We’ve seen how well they have worked together to achieve their lofty status in the East.

But how have they fared individually?

Here are the midseason grades for each of the Celtics this season.



Stats: 24.8 points; 4.9 assists; 3.1 rebounds. Shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range this season.

Summary: There was really no sense of what Boston was getting with Irving other than a talented scorer with magician-like skills when it comes to handling the basketball. As a player he has been all the Celtics could hope for, and then some. He is one of just four players in the league this season with 30 or more games scoring at least 20 points. Defensively, he has been significantly better than billed. But his most important contributions have come in terms of his leadership. He has mentored players off the floor, kept their spirits high during games and delivered passionate speeches during halftimes in which they rallied for wins after not-so-great starts. Grade: A


Stats: 9.5 points; 4.9 assists; 3.7 rebounds per game. Shot 37 percent from the field in December, his best month shooting this season.

Summary: There are few players who can impact the game on the perimeter defensively, the way Smart does. He is a passionate, highly intense competitor that hasn’t met a guard yet that he doesn’t think he can shut down or at least make work awfully hard to score. The back-to-back offensive fouls he drew against Houston’s James Harden speak to how he tends to elevate his play defensively, when the team needs it the most. Still, Smart’s shooting remains the biggest weakness to his game. In the month of December, Smart shot 37 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range which made for the best shooting month of the season thus far. That said, Smart’s defense has overshadowed his struggles from the field. Grade: B


Season stats: 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game. Leads all NBA reserves in minutes played (932) this season.

Summary: Remember that kid who wasn’t doing so hot in class, but managed to damn near ace his last few tests that made his grade for the class a respectful one? On this team this season, that would be Terry Rozier. Despite playing more minutes off the bench this season than any backup in the NBA, Rozier didn’t have the numbers or steady impact you come to expect from a player logging significant minutes. And this past week, it seems everything finally started to come together for him. His defense and rebounding have been strong all season, but he has finally started to give them that much-needed jolt offensively that had been missing for the most part. In fact, he has reached double figures scoring in each of Boston’s last four games which is a first for the third-year guard. If he continues along those lines, the Celtics’ bench will only get better and his role even more enhanced than it is currently. Grade: B


Season stats: 3.6 points; 1.2 assists; 1.2 rebounds. Celtics 18-3 this season when he plays seven or more minutes.

Summary: He has been Brad Stevens’ “In Case of an Emergency” option for most of this season which has led to the bulk of his playing time coming in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t play major minutes and in all likelihood that’s not going to change anytime soon. But to Larkin’s credit, he has made the most of his time on the floor which is why Stevens has shown no hesitation to turn to him when he wants to change the pace of a game. Grade: B


Season stats: 1.0 points, 0.7 rebounds per game. One of two players Boston has signed to two-way contracts.

Summary: With most of his time spent with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Allen’s NBA body of work isn’t a long one. And like most of Boston’s backups, he has shown he too can add value to winning for the Celtics. In a three-second stint against New York earlier this season, Allen forced a Knicks turnover late in the game. He still needs to show that he can knock down shots in the NBA, but defensively-speaking, he’s about where the Celtics would want him to be right now. Grade: B



Season stats: 14.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Shooting 47.1 percent from 3-point range, tops in the NBA among players appearing in at least 20 games with at least three, 3-point attempts per game.

Summary: Being selected with the No. 3 pick on a team that was among the best already, Tatum has had to prove himself not only to opponents but also to his teammates. He has made the transition to the NBA game look a lot easier than it really is, showing a level of confidence and comfortability with the team and the NBA as a whole that you don’t expect to see from a rookie let lone a rookie who is just 19 years old. He has been among the league’s rookie leaders in several categories in addition to ranking among the NBA’s top two or three players for most of the season in 3-point shooting. Grade: A-


Season stats: 14.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists per game. Has eight, 20-point games which is third among second year players (Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has 19; Denver’s Jamal Murray has 13).

Summary: The role that the Celtics have looked for Brown to play this season, is not an easy one. Along with being charged with being the team’s best perimeter defender, Gordon Hayward’s season-ending left ankle injury forced Brown to evolve into being the team’s No. 2 scorer behind Kyrie Irving. That’s a lot to ask of a second-year wing player, particularly one who plays for the best team in the East and will surely get the best shot from opponents going forward. Grade: B+


Season stats: 2.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.2 assists per game. Sixty-eight of his eighty-eight shot attempts, or 77.3 percent, have been 3-pointers.

Summary: The dream of any player taken in the second round, is to make the team and whatever happens after that, happens. Ojeleye hasn’t just been warming up the bench. He has been utilized as a defender who if you leave open, can make you pay with a 3-pointer. He’s nursing a sore back injury that has kept him off the floor for the last four games. But that doesn’t diminish from what has been a very good start to a promising NBA career. Grade: B+


Season stats: 11.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. Has missed 21 games to injury this season, after having missed 11 games in the five previous seasons combined.

Summary: One of the more difficult Celtics to grade this season, a sore left knee all season has made Morris a difficult player for Boston to rely on despite seemingly playing well whenever he’s healthy. We saw that in the final game of 2017 for Boston when Morris came off the bench and scored 15 points in just under 17 minutes as he shot 5-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 on 3’s. The fact that he played in back-to-back games was a positive. And the fact that Boston as a couple days in between its next game, bodes well for him getting enough rest to where he can play on Wednesday and be a factor. Grade: B-


Season stats: 2.1 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.4 assists per game. Played a career-high 21 minutes in Boston’s 99-98 comeback win over Houston.

Summary: Nader has not had many opportunities to play this season, in part because of Boston’s depth at the wing position but also due to Nader’s struggles defensively. While he is far from being a lock-down defender, he has shown growth in this part of his game and that, along with injuries, has afforded him some spot-duty assignments that to his credit, he made the most of. There are plenty of areas in need of improvement when it comes to his game, but he is trending in the right direction. Grade: B-


Season stats: 1.3 points, 0.5 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. Signed two-way contract with the Celtics.

Summary: The first two-way player used by the Celtics, Bird was drafted by Boston late in the second round because of his scoring potential. But in summer league and later in training camp, Boston saw the potential for him to be a really good defender. In fact, his first time on the floor was against Philadelphia – Boston’s first win of the season – and the impact he made in the victory was indeed felt on the defensive end of the floor and not scoring. Grade: B-


Season stats: 2.0 points, 1.0 rebounds per game. Suffered season-ending ankle injury in season-opening loss at Cleveland.

Summary: It’s impossible to accurately reflect what Gordon Hayward accomplished this first half of the season while playing less than five minutes due to a season-ending ankle injury. While he has not been able to contribute on the floor with his play, his presence has definitely been a positive for the Celtics. He is attacking the process of rehabilitation in a similar fashion to how the Celtics are attacking the process of becoming an elite team in the NBA, this season. The two have gone hand-in-hand all season. Grade: A-



Season stats: 13.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists per game. The Celtics are 18.2 when he scores 14 or more points.

Summary: There’s no getting around the increased comfort level that exists with Al Horford and the Boston Celtics now compared to where things stood a year ago. His numbers are up across the board and maybe most important, he’s having more high impact nights which bodes well for Boston’s efforts to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings. Grade: B+


Season stats: 4.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists per game. Had 15 rebounds in Dec. 23 win over Chicago, the most grabbed by a Celtic player this season.

Summary: The 25-year-old rookie has been a pleasant surprise to the Boston Celtics this season. They suspected Theis could help, but they didn’t realize just how much until he got on the floor. He is an active rebounder and defender who has shown an ability to make the most of his chance to play and when that opportunity isn’t there, he patiently waits for his next chance to contribute. Grade: B+


Season stats: 5.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. Has made a career-high 29 starts this season after having made 23 total in his five previous NBA seasons.

Summary: The first half of the season saw Baynes showcase an offensive scoring touch that few saw coming, at least not as consistently as we saw the first few weeks of the season. But as time passed, Baynes hasn’t looked as much for his shot but rather, a shot to impact the game in a meaningful way. However, Baynes continues to play defense at a high level, evident by his defensive rating of 94.5 which is tops among all NBA players logging at least 15 minutes of court time this season. Grade: B 


Season stats: 1.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.3 assists per game. Had a career-high six points against Miami on Dec. 20.

Summary: The Dancing Bear hasn’t had much of a reason to dance, although his play has looked better lately. The potential is there for him to be a really solid player but he has to do more with the limited opportunities he gets. Grade: B-