Celtics-Bulls preview: Tatum benefitting from teammates, environment


Leading Detroit 84-79 on Sunday, Boston’s Jayson Tatum drained a 3-pointer with less than two minutes to play that gave the Celtics necessary cushion to push back the Pistons’ late-game surge.

It feeds into the narrative that aside from Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum is as clutch a shooter as you’ll find on this Boston Celtics roster in the fourth quarter.

Tatum’s ability to knock down big shots was instrumental in Boston’s 91-81 win over Detroit on Sunday, but it remains to be seen if his late-game clutch play will be needed tonight as the Celtics try and close out their three-game road trip at Chicago which has been among the worst teams in the NBA this season.

And while Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons has been the odds-on favorite for this year’s rookie of the year, Tatum has been a player who has received a significant amount of praise all season.

But in examining Boston’s win over the Pistons, which was aided in part by Tatum’s only make and take in the fourth, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was quick to remind folks afterwards why he was so open. 

“Obviously, the shot he hit, that was off a lot of attention on other guys on the other side of the floor,” Stevens told reporters.

On the play, Marcus Smart had the ball on the court opposite Tatum. Al Horford and Tatum set what looked like a double-screen for Kyrie Irving who made a sharp dive towards the basket. Avery Bradley looped around Horford as Detroit center Andre Drummond reacted to Irving’s dive towards the basket. Horford popped out behind the 3-point line and received a pass from Smart. Tobias Harris, who was defending Tatum, slid over towards a wide-open Horford who then quickly swung the ball to – who else? - a wide open Tatum who did what he does as well as anyone in the NBA and that’s make pressure-packed, fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

“That’s why he was open,” Stevens said. “He (Tatum) benefits from that. And obviously, he’s a good player that we think will get a lot better.”

The same can be said for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen who is averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds which ranks fifth and second, respectively, among rookies this season.

There hasn’t been much buzz about his play this season in large part because the Bulls (5-20) have been so bad.

There are lots of words used to describe Tatum – “bad” certainly isn’t one of them.

This season, he has logged 193 minutes in the fourth quarter according to NBA.com/stats. He’s shooting 66.7 percent from the field in the fourth which is tops among all players who have logged at least 150 minutes in the fourth quarter.

And among players who have taken at least 10 3-pointers in the fourth this season, Tatum is shooting a league-best 71.4 percent from the field.

Kyrie Irving, who has been watching Tatum play since the 19-year-old was a junior in high school, believes Tatum’s unexpected penchant for making 3’s – he’s shooting an NBA-best 52.3 percent on 3’s this season – has more to do with his environment than anything else.

“Coach (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke) utilized him the best he could in the offense last year. I think it was predicated on iso-basketball where he caught it on the elbow and was able to play three (small forward), four (power forward) spot,” said Irving who like Tatum, also played for Duke and under Krzyzewski. “And in high school, he was just bigger than everybody. So, why would he need to shoot threes? So, when you’re as skilled as he is, and you’re now in a high-intense, high-talented offense, you get a lot of open looks where you get your feet set. And I think he’s doing a great job of realizing that teams can run him off the line but he can still get a great look off of penetrating or relocating (behind) the three-point line.” 


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