Brad Stevens blames himself for Terry Rozier's errant 3-pointer vs. Hornets

Brad Stevens blames himself for Terry Rozier's errant 3-pointer vs. Hornets

Terry Rozier made a pretty questionable decision late in the Boston Celtics' loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

With under 20 seconds remaining and the Celtics trailing by three, Rozier drove the lane on a semi-fast break with only Hornets guard Devonte Graham between him and the hoop. But rather than pass or attempt a shot in the paint, Rozier dribbled out to the perimeter to take (and miss) a contested 3-pointer. Charlotte grabbed the rebound to seal Boston's fate: a 124-117 loss in a game the C's led by 18 points.

But rather than admit Rozier made a bone-headed play, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens insisted he deserved blame for failing to call a timeout as the play broke down.

"They're face-guarding Kyrie (Irving) at half-court," Stevens said in his postgame interview, as aired on NBC Sports Boston. "At the end of the day, that should not be on Terry. If anything, that should be on me. So, I don't blame him for that. 

"He attacked. The clock was running down, we're down three. We've seen him hit shots like that. But at the same time, if there's a finger to point to, it would be at me because we had a timeout left."

While he let Rozier off the hook for that play, Stevens still was critical of his team's shot selection during a massive 30-5 Hornets run in the fourth quarter.

"We had an 18-point lead ... and then we just started shooting shots we weren't shooting prior to, and our defense got a little more attackable," Stevens said. " ... Whenever that happens, I think you can look at it and say, 'We all could have done better.' "

It was a diplomatic answer from Stevens, who has had plenty to gripe about over a six-game stretch in which Boston has allowed 114 points or more in every contest.

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The evolution of the Jayson Tatum-Kyrie Irving tandem

The evolution of the Jayson Tatum-Kyrie Irving tandem

BOSTON -- There is a connection that Jayson Tatum feels towards Kyrie Irving that goes deeper than their one-and-done stints at Duke University.

And if you listen to Irving, the feeling is mutual.  

Tatum is young enough to remember Irving’s first few years in the NBA and how he quickly went from being an on-the-rise talent to becoming one of the NBA’s best players. 

It is a path that the 21-year-old Tatum has never been coy about wanting to someday blaze for himself, a path that he knows becomes a bit more complicated because of Irving’s presence. 

Tatum will be the first to tell you that the lessons he has learned both on and off the floor while being a teammate of Irving’s have been instrumental in his development. 

Inside the Celtics locker room, you won’t find a stronger advocate for Irving’s leadership of this team, than Tatum. 

And yet Tatum knows as much as having Irving around has benefited him, it has also made his basketball trajectory a bit more challenging particularly when it comes to picking up where he left off during the playoffs a year ago, which is when he emerged as a potential star on this team and in the NBA while Irving was out due to injury. 

Well, whatever learning curve Tatum had to deal with, it has not been an issue in this first postseason for him with a healthy Irving available.

For all the positive developments the Boston Celtics can take away from their four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, the evolution of the Tatum-Irving tandem down the stretch has been one of the more significant ones.

“It’s been a good challenge,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston when asked about blending his talents and strengths with those of Irving. “Obviously, he’s one of the best players in the league and I’m trying to get there one day. So, just being out there and obviously, playing within the system and making plays … and for me trying to keep up with him, keep my level of play up. I know he’s going to bring it night-in and night-out so I want to be there, right with him.”

So far in the playoffs, Tatum has indeed found the secret sauce to be an impact performer for the Celtics along with Irving. 

Irving is the team’s top playoff scorer at 22.3 points per game, while Tatum is not too far behind as Boston’s No. 2 with a 19.3 points per game average.

Irving is racking up a team-best 7.8 assists per game while Tatum is snatching 5.5 rebounds per game along with shooting better than 50 percent from both the field (52.9 percent) and 3-point range (53.3 percent).

But more than the stats, both have shown the ability to work in concert with one another in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line. 

Although Tatum was Boston’s No. 2 scorer in the regular season, often he was on the bench down the stretch in the fourth quarter. And when he was on the floor in the fourth, he didn’t really score much, which is evident when you consider he was the No. 2 scorer on the team overall but was just fourth on the team in fourth-quarter scoring during the regular season. 

The playoffs have brought out a more aggressive Tatum, something he attributes in part to the advice and tutelage he has received from Irving. 

Just as importantly, Tatum believes he has gained greater trust from the coaches to have him on the floor in those end-of-game, crunch-time moments. 

In Boston’s 99-91 Game 2 win over the Pacers, Tatum finished with 26 points, which included him scoring or assisting on eight of Boston’s last 10 points as part of a 10-0 run to close out the victory. 

But his late-game dominance was also buoyed by a strong fourth quarter from Irving, who had a game-high 37 points, nine of which came in the fourth. 

After four playoff games, Tatum is averaging a team-best 8.0 points scored in the fourth, followed by Irving (6.0), Gordon Hayward (5.3) and Al Horford (4.0).

Flashback to the regular season and you’ll see Irving (6.4) at the top of that list followed by Jaylen Brown (4.0), Marcus Morris (3.7) and Tatum (3.6). 

Being more of a go-to guy in the fourth has been a definite confidence booster for Tatum. 

“It’s big because now, it shows that I have earned that trust,” Tatum said. “It’s so crucial this time of year; those late possessions really matter.”

The same can be said for his strengthening relationship with Irving who has made his feelings towards Tatum known from Day One. 

During the Knuckleheads podcast co-hosted by former NBA players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles, Irving did not hold back in his adulation for Tatum. 

“We’re six years apart,” Irving said. “And I try to tell him, I’m like, look: ‘I’m a liaison between all of this … Whatever you need me to do. I’ll get out of your way once you get to that point (of greatness). You go ahead. This is yours. You want it? Go take it.’ And I tell J (Tatum) as well: “Me and you in this, going for the guts and glory. When it’s all on the line? I know I need you right next to me. So let’s get this thing going.’" 

Irving added, “I have a different relationship with all of my teammates but specifically with him, how special he is.”


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Where do Celtics stand in East pecking order? New NBA odds are telling

Where do Celtics stand in East pecking order? New NBA odds are telling

On paper, the No. 4-seed Boston Celtics are the worst remaining Eastern Conference team in the NBA playoffs.

In reality, they have a very real shot at "upsetting" the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second round and even reaching the NBA Finals.

The 2018-19 Celtics indeed have been an enigma this season, sputtering to a 49-33 record despite being preseason favorites to win the conference but jelling nicely in a first-round series sweep of the Indiana Pacers.

How to get a handle on Boston's postseason potential? Vegas is a good place to start, as U.S. sportsbooks released updated odds to reach the NBA Finals for the four remaining East teams with the second round set.

The Bucks are still the favorite at -120, and the No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors are close behind at +180. But the C's have better odds than the No. 3 seed Philadelphia 76ers, who are pegged at +550 compared to Boston at +375.

These odds are a pretty accurate reflection of where the C's stand: Kyrie Irving and Co. have the potential to knock off the Bucks, but still would be underdogs in the East finals against a deep Raptors squad that was favored to win the conference earlier this year.

The Sixers might have the most talent of the bunch, but the Celtics have owned them lately and likely would be favored in that series if Philly snuck past Toronto.

The latest odds to win the NBA Finals from FanDuel Sportsbook offer similar reflection of the East food chain, with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets still on top:

Golden State Warriors: -160
Houston Rockets: +550
Milwaukee Bucks: +550
Toronto Raptors: +1000
Boston Celtics: +1600
Philadelphia 76ers: +2200

Essentially, the Celtics are a de facto three-seed in Vegas behind Milwaukee and Toronto. We'll start find out Sunday if they can outperform those odds.

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