Celtics

Celtics Spotlight: Is Jayson Tatum ready for the leap that didn't happen last season?

Celtics Spotlight: Is Jayson Tatum ready for the leap that didn't happen last season?

When Jayson Tatum’s 14-foot fadeaway clanged off the front iron on his first shot of the 2019 preseason last week against Charlotte, it was fair to wonder if he was truly committed to hunting better shots this season. 

He followed with two finger rolls, including one over two defenders after attacking off the dribble from the high post, and a corner 3-pointer — all of this in little more than a minute span — and Celtics fans were probably a little woozy thinking about what could be this season.

Celtic Spotlights: Walker | Smart | Brown | Hayward | Williams 

Tatum has since owned his sophomore struggles, dismissed those that want to blame Kobe Bryant for his mid-range penchant last year, and reaffirmed a desire to make the sort of leap that even he was expecting last season.

The formula for that leap might be as simple as embracing a high-efficiency shot profile and letting his natural talents take over. And the preseason glimpses have been super encouraging.

It’s a successful season for Tatum if… 

…he keeps his promise to prioritize 3-pointers and layups. Tatum’s shot chart early in the preseason has been an analytics dream with nearly half of his attempts beyond the 3-point arc and another 40 percent from 10 feet or closer. Good things happened when Tatum was on the court last season, despite his questionable shot selection, and even better things will happen if he maximizes his offensive efficiency. A really successful season might just be Tatum emerging as Boston’s No. 1 offensive option by the time the playoffs roll around. 

It’s a disappointing season for Tatum if… 

…he falls into old habits of settling for mid-range jumpers and lazy fadeaways. Yes, he’s talented enough to make a lot of those shots, and still will. But he’s also good enough to probe off the pick and roll, get defenders off the ground with a head fake, and finish closer to the rim.  It’d be disappointing if he wasn’t in the conversation for a trip to the All-Star Game. 

2019-2020 Outlook

Thirty-five NBA players averaged 20 points or more per game last season. Even with all the obvious offensive talent that Boston has on its roster this season, Tatum should be in that category this year. He must play with more of a killer instinct and be someone that wants the ball in his hands in crunch time or when things are going sideways for the Celtics. But, building off what Gregg Popovich stressed to him at the FIBA World Championships, Tatum must also find ways to impact the game beyond scoring — whether that's with his length on the defensive end or being able to create for others when defenses collapse on him. Tatum has only scratched the surface of his potential to this point.

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Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Celtics had a terrific celebration planned for Grant Williams' first 3-pointer

Even the best-laid plans go awry when you're too excited about your teammate making his first career 3-pointer.

Celtics rookie Grant Williams finally hit a deep ball Monday night in the third quarter of Boston's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, ending an 0-for-25 spell to begin his NBA career and causing his teammates to go wild on the bench.

It was a hilarious celebration for a cool moment -- but not the celebration the Celtics had planned.

Backup point guard Brad Wanamaker told the Boston Sports Journal's Brian Robb what should have happened after Williams' first 3-pointer.

If you watch the video, Wanamaker actually stuck to the plan and "passed out" on the sideline, but the rest of his teammates were too excited (shocked, perhaps?) to remember to follow suit.

We appreciate the effort, Brad.

According to Williams, his teammates' celebration also included some colorful language.

"A lot of it was graphic," Williams told reporters when asked what the Celtics were yelling at him after his 3-pointer. "Especially Carsen (Edwards), you know. But outside of that, it was a good moment, just because they were celebrating me."

It helped that the C's were cruising to a 110-88 win over the Cavs, giving them full latitude to celebrate Williams first deep ball however they wanted.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.