Xavier Tillman brings grit and defensive intensity to the Boston Celtics, which should make him popular among fans.
Just ask his former teammate, who exhibited those traits in spades in Boston.
Tillman comes to Boston from the Memphis Grizzlies, where he spent half a season with ex-Celtics guard Marcus Smart. Tillman admitted he and Smart haven't spoken since his trade to Boston became official Wednesday, but Smart apparently gave the 25-year-old some prescient advice earlier in the season that Tillman plans to take to heart in his new NBA home.
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"He was just telling me about his experience here," Tillman told reporters Friday at his first Celtics shootaround. "...The main thing he told me is, (Boston) is very similar to Memphis in terms of the grit and the grind and how hard you have to work for the fans' appreciation. And once you do show that you're willing to hustle, they're gonna love you after that."
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Smart speaks from experience: He embodied hustle and tenacity during his nine seasons with the Celtics, developing a knack for making "winning plays" that made him a fan favorite in Boston, as evidenced by the rousing ovation received last Sunday in his emotional return to TD Garden.
Tillman is expected to have a smaller role than Smart in Boston as a backup big man who can provide toughness off the bench behind Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. But the fourth-year veteran does have experience in big moments: He averaged 8.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the Grizzlies' 2023 first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, including a 22-point, 13-rebound outburst in Memphis' Game 2 win.
Tillman also doesn't back down from his opponents, which became clear when audio surfaced of him trash-talking Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving during a game last month.
Tillman isn't the strongest offensive player, averaging just 6.0 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting prior to his trade from Memphis. But he's an excellent defender who plays with an edge that Boston could use when opposing teams take their best shot against the NBA's current top team.
If Tillman follows Smart's advice, he should fit right in at TD Garden.