Why Jayson Tatum believes Celtics have 'realistic' shot at NBA title

Why Jayson Tatum believes Celtics have 'realistic' shot at NBA title

All-Star forward Jayson Tatum believes the Boston Celtics have a "realistic" chance of winning the NBA title inside the Disney bubble and isn’t surprised by how bullish those within the organization have been about their chances to contend.

"I think that's the mentality you should have,” Tatum said during a Zoom conference with reporters after Boston’s workout on Saturday morning. "I've never been on a team in my life -- whether it was high school or college or since I have been on the Celtics -- where I didn't think we should settle for like third place. 

"I always thought, that's why we played, to be the last team standing, so I think automatically we have that mindset, and we have a realistic chance. We have the talent, the experience, the depth, and we compete with the best of them. We scrap, we play defense, and our mindset is to never give up. We have a lot of guys who have been through a lot with each other, been through a lot of battles over the last couple years, so we hold each other accountable, trust each other, and we're going to fight 'til there's zero on the clock.”

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The Celtics enter the restart sitting third in the Eastern Conference but have a chance to chase Toronto for the No. 2 spot during the seeding games. Enes Kanter said the team hasn’t talked much about seeding, putting an emphasis on simply being healthy when the games matter most.

But, like Tatum, he’s bullish on Boston’s chances.

"I feel like we have enough talent to beat every team on every floor,” said Kanter. "The only thing I would care about is if my guys are healthy or not. Right now, everybody is healthy, everybody is going out, just trying to get in the best shape. I feel like, man, Celtics can beat every team on every floor, so we are not worrying about who we are going to face, or who are we not going to face. 

"We’re just going out there and just show the world because, beginning of the season, man, there was so many haters out there. There was so many doubters out there that were saying that the Celtics were not going to be the best. Celtics are not going to do it this year. I feel like we’ve proved them wrong already but our job is not done yet. We just need to go out there and finish the job and show the whole world we got what we need.”

After their initial quarantine in their Disney hotel, the Celtics held practice sessions on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Players said it delivered a little bit of normalcy in a unique situation.

"Just being able to practice with all the guys, get after it,” said Tatum. "It’s been so long since we got to be in the gym all together. So it’s been fun. We’re all enjoying it, getting back into the rhythm. So we’re having a lot of fun.”

Tatum, who will be key to Boston’s success inside the bubble, said he focused on his body while the season was paused. Asked if had added muscle mass to his frame, Tatum got a bit coy.

“I did. But it’s not for public knowledge,” said Tatum. "I can't tell everybody my secrets.”

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Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

The Boston Celtics dominated the Brooklyn Nets with a bounce-back performance inside the NBA bubble Wednesday night, and they accomplished a rare feat in the process.

The C's cruised to a 149-115 win and had seven players score in double figures, including all five starters. Jaylen Brown led the team with 21 points, giving him at least 18 points in all four seeding games so far. Second-year center Robert Williams (18 points) and backup point guard Brad Wanamaker (13 points) also played well offensively. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Celtics nearly scored 150 points in a game without overtime and none of their players tallied 25 or more points. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Boston's 149 points were the most by a team without a 25-point scorer since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994.

The Sonics defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 150-101 in that game, and they had 10 players score in double-figures. Seattle finished with the league's best record in the 1993-94 season, but the team was upset by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics will return to game action Friday night versus the second-place Toronto Raptors. It's the most difficult matchup remaining on Boston's seeding game schedule.

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

We suspect a significant spike in attendance at our next Robert Williams Fan Club meeting after Wednesday night’s performance. Please be sure to check the updated seating assignment for all those attempting to re-board the now socially-distanced Timelord hype train.

The 22-year-old Williams offered a firm reminder of his potential by erupting for a career-best 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and a steal in a breezy win over the Brooklyn Nets. Williams was plus-21 over nearly 19 minutes of floor time, which included some surprising first-quarter burn.

Our senior leadership committee will be tasked with determining whether this was Williams’ best game of his NBA career. A November 2019 visit to San Antonio (11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks) finally has a challenger for that crown.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

What we saw Wednesday was the sort of performance that escaped Williams in Boston’s three scrimmages. It’s the sort of performance that none of Boston’s younger players have showcased inside the bubble. Williams and the younger players have rarely left coach Brad Stevens with any reason to ponder a more consistent role.

But Wednesday’s performance will make Stevens think a bit harder about what Williams can offer this team moving forward.

We’ll caution membership from getting too excited about the possibilities. Stevens will not overreact to one performance, particularly not against a Nets team that lacked the energy from its upset over the Bucks the night before. Williams must build off this outing if Stevens is to call on him when the games really matter.

To put it another way, we wouldn’t be surprised if Williams played only sparingly against Toronto on Friday night. But given that none of Boston’s youngest players have stated a strong case for increased playing time entering Wednesday’s game, Williams becomes the first one to submit an application that Stevens must consider (and rookie Romeo Langford, with his continued solid wing defense, has done the same).

Williams did typical Williams things. His first six makes were all at the rim, including a pair of alley-oop finishes (most notably a particularly sexy set play in which Gordon Hayward sprung Williams with a backside screen and Marcus Smart delivered a long-distance lob). Williams capped his night with a 20-foot jumper, showcasing newfound range in a late-clock situation.

His blocks were relatively quiet, at least by his volleyball-spike standards. Williams did come rushing with help to swat a Joe Harris offering across the court, then practically leaped over Langford to swat a Dzanan Musa layup attempt.

Williams played with quick hands on the defensive end. He showcased his passing skills with an ability to spray the ball to cutters and open shooters on the perimeter.

But it’s all about building off a big night. Two games after his big performance in San Antonio, Williams experienced ankle soreness and sat out. He never generated momentum, and injuries have been a primary culprit early in his NBA career. Hip issues in December forced him to the sidelines for three months.

Williams says he’s healthy now and he needs to keep making Stevens think. He has to dominate outside of game action, whether that’s putting in extra work on off days or shining in practices.

The potential is so obviously there. It’s why none of us with real estate on Timelord Island are willing to sell our properties. Williams has the potential to be an X-factor in the postseason. Or he might not play at all. It all comes down to whether he shows enough now for Stevens to trust him, especially on the defensive end.

Williams doesn’t have to be perfect like his shooting chart on Wednesday. But he has to be consistent. But if he keeps maximizing his opportunities, more chances will follow.