Celtics

Scottie Pippen: Celtics' Jayson Tatum capable of being best player on an NBA champion

Scottie Pippen: Celtics' Jayson Tatum capable of being best player on an NBA champion

Jayson Tatum has received plenty of praise during the 2019-20 NBA season for raising his game to an All-Star level, and one NBA legend believes the Boston Celtics forward is capable of taking his talents even higher.

The Boston Celtics will enter the league's 22-team restart at Walt Disney World Resort later this month as one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. ESPN's Jalen Rose was among the first national voices after the restart format was announced to predict the Celtics were capable of going on a deep playoff run. He even picked the C's to win the conference and reach the 2020 NBA Finals.

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For the Celtics to make the Finals and contend for the franchise's 18th championship, Tatum likely will have to carry the team as its best player and go-to scorer. Chicago Bulls legend and current ESPN NBA analyst Scottie Pippen thinks Tatum is ready to take on that challenge.

Here's what Pippen said on ESPN's "The Jump".

Rachel Nichols: "Do you think Jayson Tatum is already, now, capable of carrying that best player on a championship team title?"

Pippen: "Rachel, I really do. I think this has been a breakout season for Tatum. He started out this season sort of on a mission to separate himself from the other players who've grown and developed, as well as really showing some leadership by becoming an All-Star this season. His scoring was really starting to peak right there (before the season was paused) -- he again separated himself a little bit from the other players to show he was going to be the go-to guy, the offensive leader for that team. I think if this team is to make a run, it has to rely on Tatum's ability to carry them offensively, and I feel like he's totally ready."

It's impressive when a six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer gives you this kind of praise. It's deserved, too.

Tatum was going to toe-to-toe with some of the league's best players and putting up crazy stats. particularly during his dominant month of February. One of the games that stands out is the Celtics' thrilling double-overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers right before the All-Star break. Tatum scored 39 points and outdueled reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

The 22-year-old forward has shown he's capable of being the best player on a title contender, but he won't have to do it alone. The Celtics are the only team with three players (Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker) averaging 20-plus points per game, and Gordon Hayward isn't far behind at 17.3 points per game. Boston has great scoring depth, and with Tatum and Walker able to create their shot in any situation during crunch time, C's head coach Brad Stevens has plenty of options late in games when his team needs a bucket.

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Twenty-one months ago, Kemba Walker dropped a career high 60 points on the Philadelphia 76ers, so it would be a bit shortsighted to suggest that Walker has any sort of a Philly problem.

But here’s the reality from Walker’s first season in Boston: In three games against the Sixers, Walker shot a mere 37.3 percent overall. He averaged 22.3 points but on 19.7 shots per game. The Celtics owned a team-worst net rating of minus-17.7 during Walker’s 103 minutes of floor time against Philadelphia, a span in which the Celtics were outscored by a total of 34 points. Boston went 0-3 in those games.

While Walker’s performance during seeding games eased concerns about the balky left knee that hindered him before the 2019-20 season paused, one of the big questions for Boston entering a first-round series against the 76ers is whether Walker can play to his All-Star standards and spearhead Boston’s offense against a team that often flustered the Celtics with its size and length this season.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Walker is vital to Boston’s offensive success. The Celtics posted a team-best offensive rating of 115.2 this season when Walker was on the court and that dipped to 109.4 when he was on the bench.

As much as Walker passed the eyeball test inside the bubble, looking spry and swift, the team’s starters didn’t put up their typically glossy offensive numbers. Given the way the Sixers can make things difficult on the defensive end, it’s crucial that Walker has that first unit firing on all cylinders in the postseason.

That starts with Walker being able to create his own offense.

The 76ers will deploy some of their bigger guards against Walker, including 6-foot-5 Josh Richardson, who had nearly three times as many matchup minutes against Walker as the now-sidelined Ben Simmons did during the regular season. Walker can also expect a healthy dose of rookie reserve Matisse Thybulle, another 6-foot-5 wing who made things particularly difficult on him.

The Richardson-Thybulle combo accounted for a total of 21 minutes of matchup time over three games and limited Walker to 27 points on 34.7 percent shooting (8 of 23 overall) including just 28.6 percent (4 of 14) beyond the 3-point arc, per the NBA’s matchup tracking. What’s more, Walker had more turnovers (five) than assists (four) against those defenders. Thybulle also blocked Walker's shot four times and his length can really disrupt the smaller guard out past the 3-point line.

 

The Sixers’ size simply makes everything a little bit more difficult for Walker. They can fight over screens and still contest pull-up jumper and they can close out to the 3-point line with a long arm extended as he rises. Walker made just 9 of 28 above-the-break 3-pointers against Philadelphia, a spot where he shot 38.8 percent against all other teams.

But where the Sixers can really make things tough on Walker is when he tries to score near the basket. Walker connected on just 2 of 8 shots in the restricted area this season against Philadelphia, and went 3 of 9 from inside the paint. Whether it’s Joel Embiid or Al Horford, or a combination of both, the Sixers will scramble to help whenever Walker attacks off the pick-and-roll. 

 

So, what does Walker need to do to thrive against the Sixers’ size? Rewinding to that 60-point outburst in November 2018 offers some clues, especially considering he had almost the same number of field goals that night (21) as he did this entire season against Philly (22). 

Even with Jimmy Butler hounding him for much of the night, Walker was able to attack the basket and finish through contact. He was 9 of 13 at the rim, often charging off screens beyond the 3-point arc and getting to the rim before Embiid could even arrive with help. He didn’t get rattled when some early layups didn’t fall and used body control to muscle home tough finishes. He pulled up in the mid-range when Embiid sank towards the hoop.

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If the Sixers are going to have success in this series, they’re going to have to muddy up the game. They’re going to have to turn them into rock fights. They’re going to have to get physical and try to make Boston uncomfortable.

The Celtics have to counter with ball movement and not settle for perimeter looks. It’s on Walker to keep attacking in the pick-and-roll and try to spray the ball through the labyrinth of long arms to get teammates quality looks.

If Walker has Boston’s offense clicking, it’s going to put an exceptional amount of pressure on the Sixers to match that offensive output, something that won’t be easy with their lack of shooting and the absence of Simmons.

So much of the Celtics’ offense is predicated on Walker’s play. It eases the burden on Jayson Tatum and creates even more opportunities for Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. But it starts with Walker.

He doesn’t need to have monster nights like that 60-point outburst in 2018 (heck, the Hornets lost that game) but he needs to play with the same confidence and continually put pressure on the Sixers’ defense.

Jayson Tatum dominates Celtics teammates in NBA bubble bowling outing

Jayson Tatum dominates Celtics teammates in NBA bubble bowling outing

With Mookie Betts off to Los Angeles, the Boston sports scene is missing a professional athlete who moonlights as an elite bowler.

Might another young superstar fill that void?

A few Boston Celtics players blew off steam Thursday following their seeding-round finale with a trip to a bowling alley in Orlando's NBA bubble. Naturally, they kept score -- and Jayson Tatum spared no one.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the Celtics-76ers first-round playoff series. You can also stream all games on the MyTeams App.

Here's the final tally, per Tatum's Snapchat:

It's no perfect 300, but 180 still is a strikingly good score for the 22-year-old All-Star, who left his teammates in the dust with a "turkey" in his final frame.

Here are some highlights from the session from Enes Kanter's Twitter, which include Tacko Fall's solid form, Jaylen Brown chucking a decent ball and Javonte Green "misfiring," to put it lightly:

Maybe Kanter should have focused less on filming and more on bowling, though: The C's big man finished dead last with a 71.

The Celtics are off until Monday, where they'll roll into a first-round playoff matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers having gone 5-3 in eight seeding games.