Tom Thibodeau on Celtics: 'They're going to be dangerous in the playoffs'

Tom Thibodeau on Celtics: 'They're going to be dangerous in the playoffs'

As a former Boston Celtics assistant coach, Tom Thibodeau was one of the chief architects behind a Celtics defense that ranked among the best in the league.

That defensive mindset remains strong in Boston, although you wouldn’t know it by the way the Celtics have been playing at that end of the floor recently.

Fired in January by the Minnesota Timberwolves as their head coach and president of basketball operations, Thibodeau has been making the rounds, visiting former colleagues and organizations that he has worked with previously.

He was in town recently to catch a Celtics shoot-around and later a game against the Miami Heat.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was asked about having the defensive-minded Thibodeau around and getting his take on the team’s defense.

“He’s probably so mad at watching it,” Stevens said.

While there’s no question Boston’s defense has undergone some slippage the past couple of months, you can count Thibodeau among those who believes they will be fine at that end of the floor come playoff time.

“They have length defensively, with multiple guys that can defend multiple positions at a high level,” Thibodeau told NBC Sports Boston. “They have great leadership at that end of the floor with Al (Horford), (Marcus) Smart and Aron Baynes. They have all the pieces that are necessary. They have great talent, great coaching, management, ownership, everything they need is here… they’re going to be a very dangerous team in the playoffs.”

That’s the goal of course, even if their regular-season play suggests otherwise.

After spending the early stages of this season ranked among the top two or three teams in the league defensively, the Celtics are now sixth in the league with a defensive rating of 105.1.

But since the All-Star break, Boston’s defense has taken a major nosedive to rank 20th overall with a 109.4 defensive rating.

Even though Boston’s defense is trending in the wrong direction, Thibodeau wasn’t in town offering up any kind of defensive elixir to what ailed the Celtics.

Quite the opposite of that, actually.

Thibodeau’s time in Boston was about him picking up tips for himself going forward, as much if not more than anything else.

“You always look to see if there’s something you like that you can add to what you’re doing,” Thibodeau said. “Is there a way to do something better? We always pick each other’s brains to see what we can add. So, this is a great place to do it. There’s a number of great coaches on this staff besides Brad, who is a great coach."

Thibodeau added, “Like I said, we’re always looking at what everybody’s doing. You’re always trying to learn and grow.”

And for Thibodeau, that growth will likely include a return at some point to coaching.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Just whatever your circumstances are you want to make the best of those. For me now it’s traveling around, relaxing, enjoying the time off, recharging and see what happens down the road.”

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How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

BOSTON — Marcus Smart was entertaining teammates with an impossibly spot-on impersonation of former teammate Al Horford at one end of the floor Monday so Jaylen Brown had to know it wasn’t going to be as easy as asking Smart to join his post-practice 1-on-1 work.

See, there’s a science to getting full-intensity Smart when you really want to sharpen your knives. We’ll let Brown explain:

“Ever since I've been here, since my rookie year, I've been trying to take advantage of playing Marcus 1-on-1 and baiting him into playing me,” said Brown. “I’ve been talking trash so that he'll be motivated to play me and I can work on my game.

"Marcus is probably one of the best defenders in the league. Motivated Marcus is tough to score against. But you have to talk a little bit of trash to get him going.”

And if you don’t?

“He might just bull——, or throw up some bull—— [shots],” said Brown. "He’ll laugh and joke but as soon as you start talking trash to him, he’ll be looking to bust your ass. He’ll be super engaged pretty quickly.”

Brown wouldn’t divulge exactly what he said to press Smart’s buttons on Monday but, whatever it was, it had the desired effect. A sweatshirt-clad Smart immediately threw himself full throttle into a rotating game of 1-on-1 against Brown and camp invitee Kaiser Gates.

The frisky 1-on-1 matchups that ensued were maybe more interesting than Boston’s breezy preseason win over Cleveland Sunday and the Brown/Smart battles stole the show. Each player had their moments and Brown bellowed loudly after one successful stop, though it was Smart who had the walk-off moment after muscling home a tough layup with Brown defending.

While many Celtics players scrambled off the floor before the team’s afternoon flight to Cleveland, Brown was one of the last to depart. After the 1-on-1 work with Smart, Brown and Gates shuffled to another court for additional shooting drills. When Gates asked Brown a question about positioning on the way off the court, it spawned yet another round of 1-on-1 battles between the two players who have bonded over shared Atlanta roots.

For Brown, these lengthy workdays — and especially those sessions with Smart — are all part of a plan to dispel a notion that he peaked two seasons ago. He admits he’s frustrated by the notion that he underperformed a year ago during Boston’s train-wreck of a season.

“People always expect better, but the most frustrating thing is people always said that I was having a bad year [last season],” said Brown. “Maybe it was because of the role I was in, or compared to the year before and what I was expected to do, but people always said I had a bad year. I made the best of the situation that I was put in. People always said like, ‘You still had a bad year.' I don't know what else I could have done, to be honest. I don't know.”

His plan, though, is to simply make sure the same can’t be said this time around. Brown politely steers the conversation back to the future when pressed on last year.

“This year I just want to come out and play basketball. That's it,” said Brown. "I think we've got some good guys, we got some talent. … I worked really hard, night in and night out. I watched a lot of film. I'm probably my biggest critic. I just want to come out and just play.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes that last year’s struggles will aid both Brown and Jayson Tatum.

"You should be ever-evolving, you should be ever-growing. That doesn’t mean that the path is not rocky at times. That’s part of it,” said Stevens. "Jaylen, not playing at times during his rookie year, you can see he’s always kind of kept that chip on his shoulder ever since and has always been really good. He’s just gotten better and better. This has been his best preseason.”

Riding some of the momentum he built near the end of the FIBA World Cup in China, Brown has displayed a more complete game this season. He’s sharpened his ball-handling. He’s improved his court vision. He’s stronger and more willing to joust with bigger forward.

Brown is having a particularly efficient preseason despite not shooting the 3-ball well yet. He’s averaging 9 points over just 18 minutes per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor overall. The Celtics are plus-47 in his 54 minutes of floor time (most of it from Sunday’s lopsided win) and own an absurd defensive rating of 63.9 when Brown is on the floor. His assist percentage (15.8%) is twice what it was last season (7.9%).

But it’s the eye test that really sells Brown’s improvements. He’s aggressive and confident going at the basket. He’s routinely finishing with his left hand. Brown looks ready to showcase the strides he’s made. He’s eager to show that last season isn’t a reflection of the player he will be.

No, if he can score against Smart, the rest of the league should be no problem.

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Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

The Boston Celtics have made an important yet expected move.

According to Sham Charania of The Athletic, the Celtics have exercised their fourth-year option to retain star forward Jayson Tatum.

Tatum was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Celtics selected him after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick. The Philadelphia 76ers would select Markelle Fultz at that juncture.

All first-round picks in the NBA sign four-year deals with two team options on the final two seasons. Given Tatum's performance, it was a foregone conclusion that the Celtics would exercise this option. It was just a matter of when.

Tatum will make $9.9 million in the final season of his rookie deal. During the 2020 offseason, he will be eligible to sign an extension with the Celtics, much like Jaylen Brown, the team's No. 3 overall pick in 2016, is eligible to sign one with the team right now.

Last year, Tatum averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals while playing 31.1 minutes per game for the Celtics. They are hoping that he will make a bigger leap during his third season and really emerge as one of the NBA's rising stars.

Celtics Spotlight: Can Jayson Tatum make the leap in year 3?>>>

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