Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

BOSTON Throughout the ups and downs of what has been a turbulent season for the Boston Celtics, the C's never really put a lot of stock in the need to win at home. That's because for them, it was never seen as a necessity but rather an expectation.

That's why the Celtics were never really pressed about finishing with a better record than the Hawks, which would have landed them the home court advantage at the start of the series.

"We believe in ourselves and that when we play the way we're capable of playing, that we can beat anyone, anywhere," C's guard Keyon Dooling told CSNNE.com.

Boston proved just that in snatching the home court edge away from the Hawks with a Game 2 win in Atlanta. They proved that they can get it done at home, too, with a Game 3 overtime win on Friday.

A victory tonight for Boston would give them a 3-1 series lead, the kind of edge that would most likely prove too steep for the Hawks to overcome.

And if the C's win this series and the Sixers continue their upset run over the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, the Celtics would begin their second-round series with home court advantage -- something they did not anticipate having at any point to start a series.

But first things first. They must take care of the Hawks, and defending home court will indeed be a major factor in this series now. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game as the C's try to continue their home dominance in the playoffs against the Hawks (23-2 since 1960).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR No one knows for sure what Josh Smith will bring to the floor in his expected return to the Atlanta Hawks lineup. Before the left knee injury that forced him to miss Game 3, Smith was the best player in this series. It'll be worth keeping an eye on whether he can rekindle that individual dominance in Game 4, which as he put it, has to be approached with a must-win mentality. "I understand the importance of this game coming up (tonight)," Smith told CSNNE.com. "You can't play injured, but you can play a little hurt. My teammates need me out there, so I have to go out there and try to play the best I can play."

MATCHUP TO WATCH Avery Bradley vs. Kirk Hinrich: If Avery Bradley (left shoulder) plays as expected, it'll be worth keeping tabs on whether the Hawks try to test that injured shoulder by putting Hinrich in a lot of pick-and-rolls with their bigs. If Bradley's shoulder becomes problematic, this is where it'll be most noticeable. Although Hinrich was scoreless (0-for-3) in Atlanta's Game 3 loss, the C's know his game well enough to understand that you can't leave him open too many times before he makes you pay.

PLAYER TO WATCH Paul Pierce has been giving the Celtics about as much as he can after three games, averaging 24.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. But he's doing it by logging a ton of minutes -- 44.3 per game, to be exact. He hasn't averaged that many minutes in the playoffs since the 2002-2003 season when he averaged 44.5 minutes played in 10 playoff games. You have to wonder if at some point if all those minutes will catch up to Pierce and the C's.

STAT TO TRACK Both of these jump-shooting teams will try and be the aggressor tonight. The clearest example of who is winning this battle can be seen in the number of free throw attempts. Boston is ninth among playoff teams in free throw attempts, with 23 per game. The Hawks are dead-last, with 18.7 per game.

Ainge: Tatum was always the Celtics' top choice

Ainge: Tatum was always the Celtics' top choice

BOSTON --  For the past couple of years, Jayson Tatum has been a big-time talent.
 
As a high schooler, he was among the nation’s best. In his lone season at Duke, the 29-year-old established himself as one of college basketball’s top players.
 
And just like that, he’s off to the latest and greatest basketball challenge of them all -- the NBA, after the Boston Celtics selected him with the third overall pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
 
The Celtics had the top overall pick, but traded it to Philadelphia for the No. 3 selection and a future first-round pick.
 
Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, made it clear that had they not struck a deal to move down a couple spots, they would have selected Tatum with the number one overall pick.

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“It was a great compliment,” Tatum said via conference call after the draft. “I’m excited Danny Ainge thinks that highly of me.”
 
Said Ainge: “We like his size, length, shooting, intelligence, character. There’s a lot to like about Jayson. He’s going to be a terrific player.”
 
Coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments.
 
“He’s a really skilled player, really talented scorer,” Stevens said. “Great kid, great work ethic. We’re excited to have him aboard.”
 
And Tatum comes in having been told lots of positives about Brad Stevens from his college coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
 
“He had nothing but great things to say about [Stevens],” Tatum said. “I got that impression when I met him for the first time.”
 
During his visit with the Celtics, Tatum said he watched film of Boston’s offense with Stevens in addition to some film of when he played at Duke.
 
Tatum understands there will be a learning curve of sorts when it comes into the NBA.
 
But his growth must also come about physically, too.
 
He arrived at Duke weighing less than 200 pounds, but the 6-foot-8 wing player has gained about 10 pounds since then.
 
Aware that he needs to add additional weight, Tatum isn’t overly concerned about that right now.
 
“I’m just 19,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure my body’s going to continue to fill out and see where I get; a comfortable playing weight.”
 
He has identified three areas of his game that need to be strengthened at the next level: Consistency on defense, getting stronger and consistency shooting the ball.
 
And as a Celtic, Tatum has quickly picked up on one of the seldom-talked about but vital aspects of being a Celtic: A disdain for the Los Angeles Lakers.
 
That might be a little tricky at first for Tatum, who grew up a Kobe Bryant fan.
 
“It makes it easier that Kobe doesn’t play anymore,” Tatum said. “Kobe was always my favorite player. I guess I just rooted for them because he was on there.

"But I’m a Celtics fan now.”

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night deal

Bulls trade Butler to Timberwolves in blockbuster draft-night deal

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ever since Tom Thibodeau took over in Minnesota last summer, a reunion with Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler seemed destined to happen.

For the coach that desperately wanted a defensive-minded veteran to set the tone for a talented young roster, and for the player who only truly realized what he had in that hard-driving leader after he was gone.

"It's been something that over a prolonged period of time there have been different moments where he's had to consider it and think about it," Butler's agent, Bernie Lee, told The Associated Press. "In some ways it feels like it was spoken into reality."

In the blockbuster move of draft night, the Bulls traded Butler and the 16th overall pick Thursday night to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick as the Wolves try to finally put an end to a 13-year playoff drought.

The trade brings together Butler and Wolves coach and president Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls for five seasons before being fired in 2015. Thibodeau helped Butler become an All-NBA performer and earn a $95 million contract and Butler helped Thibodeau instill the brass-knuckle mentality into those Bulls teams.

"The longer you are with somebody, the more deposits you have with each other, the trust is there," Thibodeau said. "You're not afraid to tell them the truth. So I think I know him well. I know the things that are important to him. I know he wants to win. And he wants to win big."

Now they're together again, trying to lead a franchise that has not made the playoffs since 2004.

"It's one of those moments where the excitement of tonight has to carry forward to the work that has to come," Lee said. "And if it does, it will really be a beautiful thing to see."

The Wolves paid a big price: Besides surrendering the lottery pick, they gave up a rising star in LaVine, who is coming off of a torn ACL and Dunn, last year's No. 5 overall pick. They were among the youngest teams in the league last season, cast as a team that could be a force once all of their pups grew up.

After a disappointing first season overseeing the operation, Thibodeau grabbed a fully grown pit bull to toughen the team up.

Butler played for Thibodeau for four seasons in Chicago, developing from an unheralded, late-first round draft pick into a perennial All-Star. The two strong-willed workaholics clashed on occasion during their time together and Butler said during the Olympics in Rio last summer that it was "love-hate" relationship.

But he also acknowledged that his appreciation for Thibodeau's hard-driving style increased as time went on, especially when the Bulls struggled in their first season under the more player-friendly Fred Hoiberg.

"They've come by their relationship honestly," Lee said. "They worked through a period to where they really came to learn what the other is about. ... They have a basis to work from, but things have changed and they've changed and adapted. They will take the starting point that they have, but they have to build on it."

The Wolves drafted Arizona sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen for the Bulls at No. 7 and the Bulls took Creighton forward Justin Patton at No. 16 for the Wolves. Patton is a 6-foot-11 forward who was the Big East freshman of the year after averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds last season.

When Thibodeau was hired as team president and coach last summer, he quickly set his sights on bringing Butler to Minnesota. The two sides engaged on serious discussions on draft night last year, but couldn't close it.

LaVine was having a breakout third season in the league when he tore the ACL in his left knee in February. His rehabilitation has gone well, but the injury certainly complicated the Wolves' re-engaging Chicago on Butler. Adding to the difficulty was Dunn's underwhelming first year in Minnesota, which diminished his trade value.

With all that in play, the Wolves were forced to also offer up the No. 7 pick this season to push the deal over the top. But they did receive Chicago's first-round pick in return. The move, and the package they assembled to make it, signal an organization that is desperate to start winning.

Butler averaged career highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5) in his sixth season. He is also one of the league's top defenders, an absolute necessity for a young team that finished 26th in the league in defensive efficiency last season. He will turn 28 in September, right in the middle of his prime for a team in need of veteran leadership.

"The most important thing to me are the things he does every day, the way he practices, the things that he does in meetings, the way he prepares before a game, the things that he does for recovery," Thibodeau said. "He'll show our players a lot of the things that he's learned along the way."

The move also represents the first significant steps toward an overhaul for the Bulls. Despite a spirited effort, the Bulls were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Wade opted in for the final year of his contract, but that isn't stopping Chicago from pivoting to a new, younger nucleus that includes LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen and Denzel Valentine.

Now that Butler is gone, the 35-year-old Wade could become a buyout candidate as the Bulls go into rebuilding mode.