Celtics-Nuggets review: Pierce makes mark in win

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Celtics-Nuggets review: Pierce makes mark in win

BOSTON Paul Pierce continues to be the Boston Celtics' Mr. Do-Everything, tallying his second triple-double of the season in leading the Celtics past Denver in a 118-114 triple overtime thriller.

Pierce finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists for the Celtics (27-23) who moved four games above .500 for the first time this season, and have now won a season-high seven straight games.

"This was a great game to be a part of," Pierce said. "This is the type of win that can give us confidence moving forward."

Especially considering it was Boston's sixth straight game with at least five double-digit scorers.

And while a number of players took center stage at different points in the game for Boston, there was no mistaking the steady play of Pierce who seemed to find a way to put his imprint on the game in a variety of ways.

His play continues what has been a trend in this post-Rajon Rondo run the C's are on, a run that has in large part been fueled by the play of Pierce.

Pierce hit a number of big shots for the C's on Sunday, but none as big as the 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds to play in the second overtime that tied the game at 107.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the original play was Pierce coming off a pick-and-roll, and he could get a 3-pointer off, take it.

"Then it was broken and Paul just made a play," Rivers said. "I mean, that's what great players do. I would love to tell you I had something to do with it. I was sitting just like the fans praying, 'Please, Lord, Paul make a shot.'"

Pierce's clutch shot making was among the many keys in arguably the Celtics' most hard-earned wins of the season. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how those keys played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Nuggets are all about getting buckets, all the time. For the season, they have averaged 104.8 points per game which ranks third in the NBA. During their nine-game winning streak, they lead the league in scoring with 114.6 points per game. Meanwhile, the C's counter with a scoring defense (93.8) that ranks 6th overall this season, and is 4th in the league (89.7) during the Celtic's six-game winning streak.

WHAT WE SAW: The triple overtime affair certainly skewed the scoring numbers for both teams. But considering the Nuggets needed three overtime periods to reach their scoring average during the winning streak that is no longer, it speaks to how well the Celtics defense played against one of the most prolific offenses in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Kenneth Faried: Pierce has been playing some of his best basketball of the season lately, but the 6-foot-8 Faried presents a different and in many ways, tougher challenge for the Captain. Faried is a high-energy, always-on-the-move player with great rebounding instincts evident by his 9.7 rebounds per game this season. Keeping him off the boards should be an even bigger priority for Pierce than doing what he does best, which is score.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce had another big game for the Celtics with his second triple-double of the season with 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. As for Faried, he had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Denver, but committed a huge gaffe by committing a technical foul after Ty Lawson gave the Nuggets their first lead, 90-89, with 1:43 to play in the fourth quarter. Jason Terry made the game-tying free throw moments later.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Boston's second unit has been in attack mode of late, but Denver's JaVale McGee might make the C's think otherwise. He's averaging 10.1 points off the Nuggets bench, in addition to 2.02 blocked shots per game which doesn't factor in the shots his presence around the paint can alter. His four blocked shots at Cleveland on Saturday was the seventh time this season he has had at least four in a game. That's tops among all NBA reserves this season.

WHAT WE SAW: McGee was a monster on the boards with 16, but he was out of position far too often in the third overtime which allowed Kevin Garnett to have wide open to lightly-contested shots that paved the way for Boston's victory.

STAT TO TRACK: Limiting Denver's offensive rebounds will be an across-the-board challenge for Boston. The Nuggets average an NBA-best 13.6 offensive rebounds per game. Boston has been among the better defensive rebounding teams of late, but during their six-game winning streak they are still giving up 13.2 offensive rebounds per game.

WHAT WE SAW: The Nuggets stayed true to form, grabbing 15 offensive boards which led to 23 second-chance points. However, Denver only grabbed two offensive boards in the three overtime periods that resulted in just three points.

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

BOSTON – It appears there may be an answer to the mystery surrounding Josh Jackson’s decision to not work out for the Boston Celtics leading up to Thursday’s NBA draft.

While conventional wisdom tells us that such decisions are often made by the agent who in this case is former NBA player B.J. Armstrong.

Boston instead selected Jayson Tatum at No. 3 with the Phoenix Suns scooping up Jackson with the No. 4 pick.

MORE: Danny Ainge on Josh Jackson: 'He didn’t want to play for the Celtics'

During Jackson’s introductory press conference, there was a sense that it wasn’t necessarily Armstrong who strong-armed Jackson into not working out for the Celtics. But apparently, he got an assist from Suns General Manager (and ex-Celtics assistant GM) Ryan McDonough.

A reporter asked McDonough if Phoenix may have encouraged Jackson to cancel his workout with the Celtics who were flying into Sacramento, Calif. to watch Jackson workout only for it to be canceled after they had departed which as you can imagine, did not go over well with Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

“I’d like to consult my attorney B.J. Armstrong (Jackson’s agent),” McDonough said, smiling.

The more McDonough talked, the clearer it became that he and Armstrong were in cahoots to do all they could to get Boston to pass on Jackson at No. 3 which as McDonough mentioned, doesn’t break any rules.

“You guys all know my history with the Celtics and the respect I have for Danny Ainge and the organization,” McDonough told reporters on Friday. “But I think you guys who know me well know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition. The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean B.J. and I and … other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.”

McDonough is right in that no rules were broken if he and Armstrong did decide to work together in an effort to get Jackson to Phoenix.

But to cancel the workout after the Celtics executives and head coach Brad Stevens had left, forcing them to spend a night on the road for a workout that Jackson’s camp probably knew wasn’t going to happen well before the Celtics contingent boarded for Sacramento … not cool.

Here are words I thought I would never say … the Ball clan got it right.

They told Boston from the jump that Lonzo Ball wasn’t going to work out for them, so the Celtics knew he didn’t want to be a Celtic from the very beginning.

Jackson’s actions said the same, but his words kept hope alive that he would work out or at the very least, talk to the Celtics organization – neither of which happened.

He kept referring to the fact that he didn’t think Boston was interested in him when they had the number one pick (that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if they asked him to work out for them; otherwise, what’s the point from the Celtics'  perspective of asking to work out a guy they had no interest in drafting?)

After they traded down to the number 3 pick, a deal that was cemented last weekend, Jackson said there wasn’t time to do a workout for Boston.

The draft was nearly a week away and he didn’t have time to work out for a team that had the third pick overall knowing that the top two picks (Markelle Fultz at No. 1 and Lonzo Ball at No. 2) were essentially accounted for?

“If I could have, I probably would have worked out for them,” Jackson said (with a straight face). “But I think everything worked out for the best.”

Yup.

Boston will once again be among the better teams in the East and will contend for the best record like they achieved this past season before their season ended in the Conference finals to Cleveland. 

Jackson will spend his rookie season playing a lot of minutes with a Suns team that probably won’t win as many games as he did a year ago at Kansas (33).

Enjoy.