Even more expected now from Tatum

Even more expected now from Tatum

For most rookies, that first year in the NBA is one filled with lots of learning. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum is not all that unusual.

Still, with injuries up and down the Celtics roster, Tatum, now 20, will be looked upon to provide more than what we saw this season.

And what we’ve seen this season is pretty good.

Going forward, with players in and out of the lineup because of injuries or just rest, Tatum’s impact has to continue to expand.

We saw an aggressive Tatum at both ends of the floor in the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington and the Celtics will need him to bring a similar attack-mode mentality to the floor tonight against Orlando.

There’s no way to look past his missed free throw at the end of the first OT or his 3-pointer at the end of the second OT that hit the back of the rim and clanged out. 

Between all that, Tatum was getting to the rim whether on a straight-line drive or a spin move along the baseline for a dunk.

It was the kind of performance that, minus the missed free throw, was the kind of game Boston wanted and going forward, will need from the rookie who for most of this season did not play like a first-year player.

When the season began, Tatum talked about trying to fit in and feel out his teammates to see what he can do to help the team be successful.

With most of the guys he tends to play off of (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Smart) dealing with illnesses or injuries, more will be expected of the rookie. 

And whether he’s on the court or not, rest assured Irving will continue to remind Tatum of just how important it is for him to play with a heightened level of aggressiveness.

“I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season,” Irving said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities he’s afforded out there offensively. He can make a huge impact. He’s aware of that. As a developing young player, the best thing he can do is continue to learn how to be consistent. That’s a trait you have to develop over time. I think he’s doing a great job of learning on the fly.”

Here are five other below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics look to be back on a winning track at Orlando:

This has been arguably the best season the Celtics have had under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens and a big part of that has been the team’s ability to win on the road. Boston comes in with a 23-9 road record, which is tops in the East and trails only Houston (27-8) and Golden State (25-9) in the NBA.

Boston has been a different team shooting the ball since the All-Star break, with only three teams (Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets) shooting better from the break than the Celtics who have connected on 48.7 percent of their shots from the field. And they face an Orlando team that has struggled in several areas since the break, especially defensively. Opponents are shooting 48.1 percent against the Magic since the break, which ranks 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense.

The book is still out on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, selected with the sixth overall pick in last June. Injuries have limited him to just 23 games this season. And as it turns out, injuries have led to Orlando inserting him in the starting lineup the past four games. For the season he has averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Injuries have forced the Celtics to play a scrappier brand of basketball. And the upside to that has been noticeably improved play when it comes to creating second-chance scoring opportunities. In fact, Boston is tops in the NBA this month, averaging a league-best 16.8 second-chance points per game.

Al Horford is often criticized for not scoring more points. But that has certainly not been the case this season after Horford has missed a game or two. The first game back from an illness or injury has seemingly brought out the best in Horford as a scorer. In those initial games back to the floor (he has had four of them this year), Horford has averaged 17.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent (7-for-12) from 3-point range.


Marcus Smart wants Celtics players to step up for Brad Stevens

Marcus Smart wants Celtics players to step up for Brad Stevens

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Brad Stevens continues to insist that he has to do a better job amid the Celtics' uneven start to the season but his players don’t believe their coach deserves much of the blame.

"Brad’s going to [take the blame] because Brad’s a great coach,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston. "Any great coach is going to see what he can do better — that’s what a leader does and Brad is the leader of this team. Everything he feels is going to fall on him. 

"At the same time, he’s not out there playing. We are. So at some point, as a team, we gotta step up and we gotta cover Brad’s ass just like he covers ours by putting us in the right positions. We gotta go out there and give him that sign of respect by bringing everything we’ve got every night and playing our ass off.”

After Boston’s uninspired 1-4 road trip, Stevens suggested that the Celtics were not a “well-coached” team. He doubled down on that assessment Tuesday’s at practice at the Auerbach Center, noting he needs to figure out how to get the most out of his talent.

"I think our accountability, across the board, just needs to be better. But that starts with me,” said Stevens. "I’ve got to do a better job, and I will.”

Stevens was asked what kind of signs suggest to him that he’s not doing a good job coaching at the moment.

"Just not playing the game the right way, consistently enough on both ends,” said Stevens. "And I'm shocked at our [league-best] defensive rating. I can't believe it. It doesn’t look like the best defense in the league to me but maybe that's a result of all the high scoring games early in the year.

"And then, offensively, when we're desperate and urgent, we're damn good. And when we're not, we’re — whew, we're bad. So we need to do a better job of making sure we play the right way all the way through, and I think, again, what I've spent the last 48 hours on is that's a coach's responsibility.”

Despite a roster brimming with talent, Stevens has the challenge this year of trying to figure out how all his puzzle pieces fit together, all while keeping peace among players that all desire as much floor time as possible. Toss in a minutes restriction as Gordon Hayward works his way back from last season’s ankle injury and it’s been a challenge to put those pieces where they might eventually be glued down.

On the surface, there’s been little to quibble with Stevens’ rotation decisions. He's deployed his five best players in the starting lineup and done his best to maximize time for top reserves Smart, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier. Still, for every spurt of gorgeous basketball, the Celtics have had accompanying bursts of unsightly play.

Stevens certainly deserves some flak for not being able to get his players to operate at max intensity for 48 minutes but it’s also hard to fault him for all the open shots the team has missed or the way players have sometimes let their struggles snowball.

Still, Stevens knows it’s ultimately on him to get the most out of his team.

"I think one of the things that we all have to make sure that we do is remember how hard it is to win,” said Stevens. "And I think, as a coach, your job is making sure that everybody's accountable for all those controllables, and I would say that I need to be better. So, I would say that we all play a role in it, but that's my job. So we'll be better.”

Stevens was asked Tuesday if he had considered changes to his lineup and sounded hesitant to make wholesale alterations.

“Obviously, the easy question and the easy thought is always who starts and I think it's just as much rotations in the game that we need to be better with, and maybe find some groups that play a little bit better together,” said Stevens. "I thought actually in the Portland game we saw some of that in the second half. The hard part right now is, when we play really urgent and desperate, we're pretty good. We're just not there enough. 

"So, it's hard to really pin that on a lineup, on a person, as much as we just have to be better.”

And to Stevens, that starts with him.

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