Celtics

Blakely: The biggest winners in Celtics' playoff run

Blakely: The biggest winners in Celtics' playoff run

BOSTON – Their Game 2 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers became the latest installment in this fairy tale of a season for the Celtics, who now find themselves two victories away from being Eastern Conference champions.

MORE C's-CAVS - Cleveland coach Ty Lue accuses Celtics of "gooning up game"

The contributions to this success have come from seemingly everyone in a Celtics uniform, which has created a wheel-of-fortune-like run with every turn in this series coming up a winner for the Green Team.

And as we spin this series forward, we take a look at the biggest winners for the Celtics as they continue a magical run that seems to have no end in sight.

BIG WINNERS

TERRY ROZIER

Postseason stats: 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists.
Eastern Conference Finals stats: 13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds. 5.0 assists.
Key stat: His 4.39 assists-to-turnover ratio is tops among all playoff performers logging at least 30 minutes of court time per game.

There were so many questions surrounding Rozier at the start of the postseason. He showed glimpses of being a good player in the regular season, but the playoffs bring out the best in everyone. Would Rozier rise to the occasion? He has done that, and then some. His clutch shooting, solid defense and vastly underrated game as a playmaker have been central to Boston’s emergence into becoming a team that’s oh-so-close to the NBA Finals. And we’re not even talking about the Scary Terry brand which is blowing up and will continue to do so as long as the Celtics are winning and he’s playing well. Boston has a lot of winners this postseason, but no one has improved their lot more than Rozier.

AL HORFORD


Postseason stats: 17.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists
ECF stats: 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Key stat: Team leader in minutes played (35 minutes, 19 seconds) per game in the playoffs.

For the first time in his NBA career, Horford has become a focal point of his team offensively. And while he’ll be the first to tell you he has not been perfect, there’s no question Horford has risen to the challenge. He is often praised for his leadership, which is important. But even more vital has been the way he has recognized mismatches in his favor and has shown little hesitation when it comes to exploiting them for his and the team's benefit. Horford won over coaches a long time ago because the things he does well that all contribute heavily to winning. Now, he’s winning over the fans because he’s showing them what his former coaches already knew. Horford is all about winning, far more than it just being a talking point. It’s who he is; it’s how he plays. And if that means scoring more, which we’ve seen from him in the playoffs, he’ll do it.

JAYSON TATUM


Postseason stats: 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists
ECF stats: 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Key stat: Leads the Celtics in free throw attempts (69) in the playoffs.

He came into the series as Boston’s top scorer and the Cavs have been giving him that top-shelf talent treatment in Games 1 and 2. They routinely send help when he’s on the floor, either with a double-team, a blitz or they tilt towards whatever side Tatum is occupying.  But to his credit, he has not forced the action in this series while still balancing that with staying aggressive. The Celtics thought he was the best player in this draft class and Tatum’s play in the postseason validates that faith on some levels. Tatum, 20, has been a problem for most defenses because of his ability to score in iso situations or catch-and-shoot from 3-point range. But what doesn’t get talked about more is his defense. Now, LeBron James has had success against Tatum – and damn near every other Celtic defender now that I think about it – but Tatum has won all the other matchups he has had to deal with. And with that, his presence creates a mismatch that Boston has done a nice job of milking in this series.

JAYLEN BROWN


Postseason stats: 17.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists
ECF stats: 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists
Key stat: Tied for second on the team with eight blocked shots in the postseason despite being Boston’s starting shooting guard.

When Gordon Hayward went down and the Celtics needed to establish a No. 2 scorer behind Kyrie Irving, it was Jaylen Brown who emerged as that guy. And when Irving was out for the playoffs, once again Brown stepped his game up to be one of Boston’s better scorers. And if not for a right hamstring injury at the end of the first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brown would have gone into the Philadelphia series as Boston’s top scorer. The hamstring has steadily improved and, no surprise here, the same could be said for Brown’s overall game. As aggressive as LeBron James was in Game 2, Brown played with a comparable force for the Celtics. And it is that ability to play hard at both ends of the floor, whether it be as a man-to-man defender or someone who provides help-side coverage, that has allowed Brown to stand out as one of the biggest winners in this postseason run.

THESE GUYS ARE NOT LEAVING EMPTY HANDED

MARCUS SMART


Postseason stats: 10.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists
ECF stats: 10.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists
Key stat: Leads the Celtics with 19 steals in the postseason.

There may not be a more polarizing free-agent-to-be than Marcus Smart. He has an undeniable flaw in his game – shooting – which as we know, is a pretty big deal for most teams. Still, for the Celtics to get past Cleveland, Smart will have to continue making game-changing, smart plays (yes, that was intentional). But the question a number of teams are asking themselves: how much is that worth? He isn’t talking about his impending free agency and neither are the Celtics. That’s because they have a bigger agenda item to tackle now – getting past LeBron James and the Cavs. Boston is halfway to accomplishing that goal and the play of Smart will play a major role in that happening. And because of his impact on this series thus far, Smart is easily one of the bigger winners in this postseason run, which could prove to be extremely lucrative for him this summer.

 
MARCUS MORRIS


Postseason stats: 12.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists
ECF stats: 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Key stat: Only Celtic shooting 50 percent or better from 3-point range (Morris is 10-for-20) in ECFs averaging more than one attempt per game.

He began the season with a sore knee that limited his role and he’s finishing it off as a starter whose job is to slow the most unstoppable force, maybe ever, in the NBA - LeBron James. Morris has done a nice job thus far, although he’ll be the first to tell you that he has received a lot of help from his teammates. And to that end, Morris has done a lot to help himself going forward in this series and beyond. He’s under contract for another season after this one, so he doesn’t have the kind of free-agent-to-be concerns that Smart or Aron Baynes or Greg Monroe might have. Still, you better believe the way he has shown up in the postseason has not gone unnoticed by other executives throughout the league that will make a run at him in 2019.

ARON BAYNES


Postseason stats: 6.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists
ECF stats: 6.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists
Key stat: Is shooting team-best 50 percent from 3-point range in the playoffs.

Baynes and Morris split time as the Celtics’ fifth starter, with Morris getting the nod against more nimble, athletic-types up front while Baynes deals with physical bruisers on an opponents' first unit. There’s no question Baynes has done wonders for his impending free agency this summer. He had the best defensive rating of anyone who played in at least 50 games this season and he has emerged as a 3-point threat who, in the playoffs, has connected on 52.1 percent of his threes, which trails only Horford (57.6 percent of his 3’s in the postseason). Overall, Baynes’ defense and long-range shooting have made him another potential threat for Boston at both ends of the floor.

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Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Let's get this out of the way: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the clubhouse leader to win his first NBA MVP award this season.

In leading the Bucks to a league-best 48-8 record, the Greek Freak is averaging 30 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

But there's another player who might be forcing his way into the conversation, at least according to Kendrick Perkins: Jayson Tatum.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

The 21-year-old is blossoming into an NBA superstar before our very eyes, tying his career high with 41 points in a loss to the Lakers Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center.

How good was Tatum? Jaylen Brown called his performance "surreal." LeBron James called him an "ABSOLUTE PROBLEM." But Perk went even further on ESPN's "Get Up" Monday morning.

"He is a superstar in the making. Listen — Jayson Tatum overnight went from an All-Star to possibly in the MVP conversation," Perkins said. "When you watch Jayson Tatum, before the All-Star break, he killed the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard. Flat-out outplayed them. And then you watched him last night, he was putting on a clinic all across the board. He was in his suitcase. Not his bag. He was in his suitcase."

Tatum's 41-point outburst was the latest in a string of eye-opening performances where the first-time All-Star has taken his game to another level. In February, he's averaging 29.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on 48.3 percent shooting (46.8 percent from 3-point land).

Will that make him an MVP candidate? Not this year, but if this trajectory continues, the sky is the limit for Tatum. And if so, Celtics fans will really love how Perkins concluded his thought.

"When you look at Jayson Tatum, I wouldn't be surprised if this kid would be a Celtic for life."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

LOS ANGELES — The NBA All-Star break is the unofficial starting point for the second half of the season. 

But more than that, it begins in earnest the playoff push that most of the league’s teams will be focused on. 

Teams near the top are trying to secure home-court advantage for as many rounds as possible, while teams that have been middle of the pack are trying to seal up a postseason spot. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

And then there are those on the outside looking in, teams that have little to no choice in approaching every game with a must-win mentality. 

Doing those things while keeping players relatively healthy and fresh for a postseason run, creates some difficult decisions for coaches and front-offices this time of year. 

“Trying to keep guys healthy for the playoffs … we call that a good problem,” one Western Conference executive whose team is currently on the outside of the playoff picture told NBC Sports Boston. “It means you’ve played well enough to where the playoffs isn’t a concern; it’s where you end up.”

Click here for NBC Sports Boston’s latest NBA Power Rankings.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.