Celtics

Bulls-Celtics Takeaways: Celtics aggressive play, improved effort fixing their recent issues

Bulls-Celtics Takeaways: Celtics aggressive play, improved effort fixing their recent issues

BOSTON -- When the losing streak for the Boston Celtics reached a season-high three games, there was concern for sure. 

But panic button time? 

Uh, nope. 

That’s because the losses by all accounts came down to the Celtics not playing with the kind of effort that we had seen previously. 

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And in the land of roster problems, improving effort is one of the easiest fixer-upper jobs out there. 

So it should come as no surprise that the Celtics have been able to quickly get back on a winning track with back-to-back wins, the last of which being a 113-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls. 

Despite the three-game skid, the Celtics (27-11) continue their back-and-forth status with the Miami Heat for the No. 2 spot in the East behind the Milwaukee Bucks. 

And the Bulls, even with yet another strong performance from All-Star hopeful Zach Lavine (30 points, 22 coming in the second half), continue to spiral downwards toward what’s likely to be another trip to the NBA lottery. 

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AGGRESSIVE ACTS, 2.0

While the numbers as far as points in the paint weren’t nearly as bountiful as they were over the weekend against New Orleans, the Celtics were still cashing in on attacking the Chicago defense off the dribble. 

Enes Kanter and Jayson Tatum set the tone with their work on the block posting up Chicago defenders at the start of the game, resulting in point-blank baskets and control of the game from the very outset. 

And as the Bulls adjusted and to some degree made those points at the rim tougher to come by, Boston’s aggressive play continued with better passing on the perimeter which often involved passing up good shots for great ones.

Because of that aggressive, attacking brand of basketball, the Celtics were able to withstand a Chicago surge in the third quarter by continuing to stay aggressive at both ends of the floor. 

ENES KANTER

With Daniel Theis (sore knee) out, Kanter got a rare start. And to his credit and his Celtics teammates, the opportunity was not wasted. 

Kanter has been a beast lately when it comes to impacting the game at the rim, whether it be scoring, rebounding or both. 

That’s exactly what he did on Monday, finishing with a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds. 

Kanter’s performance proved what Kanter has been saying about his play all season, and that is that it doesn’t matter if he starts or comes on as a reserve. He knows his role and that more than anything else involves him scoring at the rim and rebounding - two things he once again did at a high level. 

THE BENCH

When a starter goes down, the potential domino effect is not lost on the second unit. With Kanter going into the starting lineup, that left a huge scoring void on the second unit. 

And as we’ve seen so many times this season, the Celtics had plenty of willing and able bodies prepared to fill it as they outscored Chicago's backups, 36-31.

Among them was Grant Williams, the only player on the active roster in the blowout win against New Orleans who did not take a shot. 

He was definitely looking to be more impactful as a scorer on Monday as he finished the game with strong 11-point, 5-rebound, 3-assist performance.

Williams’ play was just one of the many success stories for Boston’s second unit. 

And it was an encouraging sign for a unit that wasn’t at full strength against the Bulls. And with the way this month is shaking out schedule-wise, chances are high that there will be more games this month when the second unit isn’t whole. 

But as we saw on Monday, not being whole doesn’t mean this group can’t cause opponents a whole lot of trouble. 

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Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

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USA Today Sports Images

Jayson Tatum, NBA All-Stars honor Kobe Bryant with well-played All-Star game

CHICAGO -- The untimely death of Kobe Bryant was the theme leading up to Sunday night’s All-Star game which was won by Team LeBron, 157-155.

The night began with a series of tributes to Bryant which included a stirring speech given by Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.

Throughout Johnson’s speech, there was the occasional “Ko-be, Ko-be, Ko-be!” chant from the stands.

And the actual game itself was one of the better-played All-Star games in recent memory courtesy of a new format that seemed to go over well with all involved. 

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The game came down to big shots and big stops by both teams, a fitting end to the night considering how all involved wanted to honor Kobe Bryant and did just that with a brand of basketball that in many ways was part of the Kobe narrative of elite play at both ends of the floor. 

Chris Paul acknowledged the challenge of playing the game at a high level and not think about Bryant who was a major influence for many of today’s All-Star players. 

“It was tough early, especially early,” Paul said. “For a lot of us, it's still surreal. It's not real until you start showing pictures and talking about it. But I think the best way we could honor Kobe, Gigi, and everyone involved was to play like we played, you know what I Mean? Me and Russ (Russell Westbrook) kept talking about it, that's one thing about Kobe, whenever he was on our team in the All-Star Game, there wasn't none of that cool stuff. There wasn't none of that. It was like, as long as they throw the ball up, let's get to it.”

LeBron James added, “You could definitely feel his presence just from the start. From every moment from the fans chanting his name till you seen the numbers. Every time you saw Giannis' team run on the floor, you saw the 2-4. So he was definitely here.”

Former NBA All-Star Richard “Rip” Hamilton was among those in attendance at the game. 

He and Bryant were both prep stars who grew up competing with and against each other in Pennsylvania and were at times roommates during all-star competitions.

Hamilton acknowledged he still hasn’t fully come to grips with what happened to Bryant and the others. 

“It hurt me, man, it hurt me to my core,” Hamiton told NBC Sports Boston. “And I still haven’t fully recovered from it. Him and I go back way before the NBA and the glitz and glamor and everything else. It’s a thing that … it still impacts me to this day.”

And once the current crop of All-Star players stepped on the floor, Team Giannis wore jersey number 24 (Kobe Bryant’s number) while Team LeBron wore jersey number 2 (the number of GiGi Bryant, Kobe’s daughter). 

Boston’s Jayson Tatum is among the many players on the floor whose game was heavily influenced by Bryant who along with his daughter Gigi, was killed along with seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. 

The relationship between Tatum and Bryant had grown into a friendship strengthened by Bryant’s interest in mentoring Tatum who has never shied away from acknowledging how influential Bryant has been in his life, both on the court as well as off the court since coming into the NBA. 

“He was the reason I started playing basketball,” Tatum said recently. “To have him reach out and try and help me, wanna work with me was something I would never forget.”

Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

Jayson Tatum forges key relationships at memorable first All-Star Game

CHICAGO -- In the days leading up to Sunday night’s 69th NBA All-Star game, Jayson Tatum, playing for Team LeBron, was intent on going at teammate and member of Team Giannis, Kemba Walker, every chance he could get. 

True to form, Tatum went right at Walker moments into the second quarter when both were on the floor together. 

He tried to take him into the post, but Walker wasn’t having it. 

Tatum then pulled up for a fadeaway jumper that was off the mark. 

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Chalk that up to one of the many memories Tatum will take away from his first All-Star appearance. 

Tatum would finish with six points while Walker tallied 23 as one of the key performers in Team Giannis' comeback that fell just short as Team LeBron escaped with a 157-155 win with the game-winning score coming on an Anthony Davis free throw. 

But when it comes to the NBA All-Star game, points, rebounds and assists mean little. 

More important are the relationships that are formed and in many instances, strengthened at such events. 

Tatum has been one of the players in his age group for years, so there are a number of All-Stars that he has had a prior connection to, prior to tonight’s game. 

But the one that has been arguably most important to his growth this season, has been that between him and Walker. 

“Kemba, that's my guy,” Tatum said. “Our relationship and friendship has grown a lot over this season so far, from USA basketball to playing on the Celtics to experiencing All-Star together. So it's been a good ride. We're enjoying it.”

Walker is playing in his fourth All-Star game, a player whose status among the NBA’s elite is well cemented. 

Prior to this season, Walker talked often about the growth he saw in Tatum’s game when they were Team USA teammates, along with fellow Celtics Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. 

Recognizing Tatum’s talent, that’s one thing. 

But more than anything, Walker has made a point of encouraging Tatum to continue striving for greatness, and not worry about how that will impact him.

“I’m good. I know who I am and what I can do in this league,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston recently. “Jayson’s really good and part of my job here, is to let him know how great he is and do whatever I can to help him be great all the time.”

During an interview with NBC Sports Boston during All-Star weekend, Walker echoed those sentiments about Tatum. 

“Like I’ve been saying all year, he’s a special talent,” Walker said. “He deserves to be here. I’m happy I’m able to share this one with him; especially his first one. This is the one he’s never going to forget, ever. I’m happy to be a part of it.”