Celtics

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- From the time Boston drafted Jayson Tatum last June, there was a certain connectivity with him and Jaylen Brown.

While their games differ, there are some common threads that from the outset bonded them in a way that stood out. 

Well, as we get deeper into the postseason, the Celtics' youthful 1-2 punch is beginning to stand out as two budding stars who are only getting better with time.

The C's return to Boston after a 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, which tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 will be played at TD Garden on Tuesday and Game 6 back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

But in every game, win or lose, there are lessons to be learned. Especially for young players like Brown and Tatum. 

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For them, the takeaway is clear. 

There is a certain gear they have the ability to shift into that makes them pretty damn unstoppable. 

We saw that in the second half when for long stretches, they flip-flopped between being the best Celtic on the floor. 

Boston trailed 65-45 in the third quarter, then closed out the quarter with a 22-10 run with Brown and Tatum combining for 18 points during the Celtics spurt. 

The Celtics eventually took a brief lead in the fourth quarter on a Tatum jumper with less than a minute to play, but ultimately came up short following a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5.1 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning basket.

No one is looking for silver linings this time of year. It’s all about wins and losses now. 

But that doesn’t take away from the need for growth, something Brown and Tatum --- who combined for 55 points (34 from Brown, 21 from Tatum) on Sunday -- are doing plenty of in this series. 

Boston would have loved to have had Kyrie Irving for this playoff series. But his absence has afforded all the members of this Celtics team to get some much-needed playoff seasoning that wouldn’t be nearly as abundant if Irving (recovering from knee procedure) were on the floor now.

There are a number of Celtics who have benefited from this, but few if any have had their learning curve accelerated as much as Brown and Tatum. Brown, in his second season, has scored 30 or more points in two of the four playoff games, the most recent being the 34-point effort on Sunday in Game 4.

And then there’s Tatum who put together one of the strongest rookie seasons ever by a Boston Celtic, a major accomplishment considering Boston’s storied past.

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He got it going in the second half on Sunday, scoring 18 of his 21 points. 

“I knew I had to be more aggressive,” Tatum said. “I had to pick up my play; just try to help out more.” 

And as this series continues to play out, both will continue to be looked upon for production which as we’ve seen, they are more than up to the challenge. 

But big numbers don’t mean much if they aren’t attached to a victory, something that eluded the Celtics in Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4. 

Boston will be back on familiar ground in Game 5 at the TD Garden, a game that the Celtics need in order to officially put the Bucks on the brink of playoff elimination. 

And make no mistake. The Bucks have their sights on trying to limit all the Celtics players, but they’ve seen enough to know that containing Brown and Tatum will be critical for Milwaukee to do what neither team has done thus far which is to win on the road. 

“They’re guys that have played with confidence not only throughout the season, but since the beginning of the season,” said Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty. “They’re definitely people we have accounted for. As you get into a series, you’re always talking about what guy’s tendencies are. These two have played very well and we have to anticipate that.”

Prunty’s comments speak to what the Brown-Tatum tandem has done in this series. 

But their play serves as a snapshot of two young stars who, like the Celtics franchise, seem to be getting better with time. 

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A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

BOSTON – As good as someone may look in summer league play, it should never be viewed as a sole barometer for NBA success. 

There have been countless players who dominate the floor this time of year, only to become NBA doormats when the games really count. 

More than anything else, summer league helps teams get a better feel for their bench – a place where most summer leaguers will be if they are even on a roster at all.

And the Celtics must feel pretty good about their second-unit players who were on the floor in Boston’s summer league run.

Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, and Jabari Bird were all reserves (or in the case of Bird, a two-way contract player), who are likely to have opportunities to play more prominent roles this season.

All were viewed as having a significant area in need of improvement heading into the offseason.

Ojeleye was essentially a talented defender who, offensively, was a catch-and-shoot guy who only took corner 3’s last season.

In summer league, Ojeleye put the ball on the floor more than we’ve ever seen in addition to finishing at the rim for lay-ups or dunks.

And Yabusele, who at times looked dazed and confused on the floor, was far more assertive in his decision-making – qualities he needs to display when camp starts in September and he’s competing for minutes off the bench.

Bird was the breakout star for the Celtics this summer, solidifying himself as a player who will be on someone’s NBA roster - if he’s not back in Boston - this season.

The athleticism that has been a hallmark of Bird’s game for years was on full display in Las Vegas. More than anything, he showed a heightened level of attention to detail while being consistent at both ends of the floor – traits he’ll need to display more of if he’s back with the Celtics and wants to compete for minutes off the bench.

So as Celtics fans are impressed with the strong play of Ojeleye, Yabusele, and Bird, keep in mind that all three are reserves who likely won’t be the first option off Boston’s bench this season.

Still, they have all shown skills that at a minimum, give Boston hope that when called upon, they will be ready to step up and contribute at a level greater than what we saw last season.

And as we know with all Brad Stevens-coached teams, players must always stay ready to play regardless of how deep they might be buried on the depth chart.

Ojeleye is a great example of this.

A second-round pick last year, Ojeleye played limited minutes most of the season only to find himself inserted into the Celtics’ starting lineup about midway through their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks.

And while Yabusele saw sporadic minutes, that was in large part due to him not being effective in the minutes he was allotted. Still, the Yabusele we saw last season wasn’t nearly as mobile, athletic or impactful as the one we saw that helped Boston to a 4-2 summer league record.

Bird, on a two-way contract last season, has done enough to at least warrant serious consideration for a spot on the 15-man roster.

All three players raised the level of expectations for fans, and while it was certainly a good sign, by no means does it alone mean they are ready to make major contributions this season.

A strong showing in summer league play can certainly be part of the puzzle for a Celtics team that heads into the season as the odds-on favorite to reach the NBA Finals.

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Celtics in negotiations with Marcus Smart on four-year deal

Celtics in negotiations with Marcus Smart on four-year deal

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have been saying for weeks that Marcus Smart is their top priority during this free-agency period. 
 
Well, it looks like those words are starting to lead to the kind of action Smart and his camp have been looking for all summer. 
 
The Celtics and Smart’s agent Happy Walters are reportedly in "serious" talks about a four-year deal that would pay Smart a salary that would reportedly total somewhere in the $46-50 million range -- similar to the range in which Boston was negotiating with Smart prior to the start of this past season. 
 
While Smart’s camp went into the summer seeking a deal that would average closer to $15 million per season, league executives have consistently maintained Smart’s value was $10 million-$12 million annually. 

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Because of that figure and Smart being a restricted free agent, teams were reluctant to put forth an offer sheet that they assumed the Celtics would match unless it was north of $15 million per season -- an extremely high price for even such a talented role player as Smart. 
 
With Kawhi Leonard being traded from San Antonio to Toronto, that all but eliminated the Celtics from making any kind of roster-altering move this summer. 
 
And because of that, it made more sense to start engaging Smart’s camp in working out a multiyear deal to keep the veteran guard in the fold for years to come. 
 
A league source anticipated a deal would get done quickly for a number of reasons with one that stands out more than the others. 
 
“They want him back, and he’s made it clear he wants to come back,” the source told NBC Sports Boston. “Both sides have a better idea of what his value is, in this market now and I think they can come to a number that works for both of them.”
 

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