Celtics

Blakely: Jayson Tatum the next Kevin Durant? Not yet, but he's trending there

Blakely: Jayson Tatum the next Kevin Durant? Not yet, but he's trending there

BOSTON – The debate about who will become the best player from the 2017 NBA draft is a three-man race between redshirt rookie Ben Simmons, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics' Jayson Tatum.

All three will have great NBA careers, but the belief that Tatum will be the best of the bunch – a belief shared recently by former ESPN NBA analyst J.A. Adande and many others – is one that’s going to gain steam as time passes on. Adande, now director of sports journalism at Northwestern University, talked about it on Jeff Goodman's "Good N Plenty" podcast for CLNS Media. 

Simmons, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury and returned a year later to win the league’s rookie of the year award, is going to be a load for teams to deal with for years to come. Still, as long as he remains a no-show when it comes to showing up to shoot jumpers or any shot outside the paint, that hole in his game will keep him from reaching his full potential which would be to become one of the greatest guards to ever play in the NBA.

As for Mitchell, he’s going to be a very good player for a long time as well because of his scoring ability, 6-10 wingspan and overall toughness. But being a superstar out West is not easy, especially in a market such as Utah, which doesn't attract the elite, upper echelon free agents which are absolutely must-haves for a superstar to do what the great ones do and that's win at the highest of levels. 

And then there’s Tatum, who really does have some Kevin Durant-like qualities to his game as well as a similar build.

Both came into the NBA as long, lanky scorers who just got buckets in an assortment of ways.

While Durant has better length, Tatum’s perimeter shooting and overall efficiency as a scorer are ahead of where Durant was at the same stage of his career.

Tatum was among the league’s top 3-point shooters for most of the season and finished with a respectable 43.4 percent shooting rate on 3s which led all rookies and ranked 8th in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Durant was a sub-30 percent 3-point shooter as a rookie. To Durant’s credit, he bounced back the following season and shot 42.2 percent on 3s which remains his career high.

Don’t look for Tatum’s scoring numbers to come close to mirroring those of Durant anytime soon. Tatum plays for a team that’s one of the favorites to get to the NBA Finals and has lots of offensive balance, led by all-stars Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. Those Seattle (later Oklahoma City) teams Durant played for, were fighting to just be competitive.

Defensively, this one isn’t even close – Tatum by a landslide.

And again, we’re talking about where Tatum is now and where Durant was as an NBA rookie defensively. Since those early years, Durant has evolved into a really good defender both man-to-man and as a help defender. Tatum plays with better defenders and in doing so, has benefited from good defensive habits that most young players drafted as high as he was, are not exposed to. And as talented a scorer as Tatum proven himself to be, it was his defense more than anything else that got him on the floor early on.

The career of Durant is cemented as one of the greatest players of this generation and certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of his play and success in Oklahoma City and Golden State.

Tatum’s nowhere close to being there yet. But when you look at his size, his length, defense, overall feel for the game and the rate at which the Celtics keep building on the win total from one year to the next … it looks a lot like what we have seen from Durant.

And we’ve all seen how his career has turned out.

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About Last Night: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

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USA Today Sports

About Last Night: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

What we’re talking about: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

To many, Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri was nuts for firing Dwane Casey just days after being named the NBA’s coach of the Year.

What in the world was he thinking when he traded the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leading scorer DeMar DeRozan in his prime, for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard who could only guarantee you he would play this year and this year only for Toronto?

Ujiri was planting the seeds for what blossomed into the greatest season in Raptors history, a season that still lives on following their Game 6 win over Milwaukee to advance to the NBA Finals.

Leonard’s dominance will certainly be talked about in the coming days, as well as the leadership of Toronto mainstay Kyle Lowry and the contributions from Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.

But the true story of this franchise’s rise to the top of the East lies in Ujiri taking the kind of high-risk, high-reward chances that few league executives in his position have the guts to do.

And the payoff has been a historic ride that the Raptors have no plans on having come to an end anytime soon.

“We’re not satisfied because we want to win a championship. We want to win in Toronto. We will win in Toronto,” Ujiri said following the series-clinching win.

What we’ll be watching: Another trip to the Finals for Golden State … with a twist

The only thing Golden State needed clarity on when it came to who they would face in the NBA Finals, was whether they would need a passport or not.

It turns out they will after Toronto advanced to the NBA Finals and will host Games 1 and 2.

And it is the fact that the Warriors will be starting on the road that makes this trip to the Finals unlike the previous four for Golden State.

Not only did teams have to face the champs, but they did so from the outset on Golden State’s turf.

Not this year.

And while most NBA pundits give Toronto little to no shot at winning the series despite home court advantage, Toronto has shown itself to be a tough foe in their building. We’ve already seen history made by the Raptors simply getting to the Finals.

That plus home court might position them well to make a little more before all is said and done.

Quote-unquote

“There’s no player I’d want to have more than Kawhi Leonard. He’s a drama-free superstar. He just wants to win.” - TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.

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Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Do you remember where you were on this day 17 years ago? 

Celtics fans most likely do, because it's the day Paul Pierce led a 26-point comeback against the New Jersey Nets to win Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. 

The Nets featured Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Kenyon Martin as the top seed in the East, while the Celtics were headed by Pierce, Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson. 

With the series tied at 1-1 after a split in New Jersey, the Nets dominated Boston in the first half, where the Celtics only managed 13 points in the first quarter. The Nets led by as many as 26 in the third quarter, until Pierce outscored their entire team 19-16 in the fourth quarter to lead Boston to the win. 

Pierce finished the game with 28 points in 45 minutes of playing time, and the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter. 

The comeback is tied for the fourth largest comeback in playoff history and gave the Celtics a chance at an NBA Finals appearance for the first time since 1987. It wasn't meant to be though, and the Nets ended up winning three straight games to close out the series and set up a clash with the two-time defending champion Lakers. LA swept the Nets to complete the first three-peat in the NBA since the days of Michael Jordan. 

Pierce would have to wait six years to finally get his chance at a championship, but this game was one of the future Hall-of-Famer's signature performances. The Truth earned his reputation in clutch spots and his fourth-quarter explosion in 2002 was particularly on brand. 

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