Celtics still have much to prove

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Celtics still have much to prove

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

MIAMI With all that the Celtics have gone through over the past four years, the city of Bostons far beyond overreacting to one bad loss. But that doesnt take away from the fact that Sundays 99-90 defeat in Miami was especially bad.

The Cs may have crawled back within single digits before the final buzzer, but the game itself was never really in question. The Heat took control from the opening tip, executed their game plan almost at will, and exposed the Celtics in ways we all feared they were capable of.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dominated the action and dictated the tempo, and in the process raised the game of some of their less-talented teammates (I said "some," Mr. Bosh). When the benches were injected into the mix, the Celtics still couldnt keep up.

For 48 minutes, the speed and athleticism thats become the calling card of this Heat team far surpassed the grit, guile and wisdom of the Celtics. In fact, if you were watching the two teams for the first time, youd have sworn it was Miami that had played together for so long, experienced so much and was so impervious to the insanity of playoff basketball. The toughness? That edge the Celtics have always held in the postseason? For one night, it was gone. In Miamis possession. They were the enforcers. They were the Celtics and the Heat at the same time.

Throw in the fact that Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett never really showed up, and Paul Pierce only did so sporadically before being tossed, and the Celtics never had a shot. At the end of the day, it was nine points, but it was so much more.

But then again, it was only one game. For all that happened, and all the bad vibes that came flowing out of South Beach, the Celtics are only down 1-0. Its the same place they were exactly one year ago today, the morning after dropping an eight-point decision in Cleveland in Game 1 of their second-round series with the Cavs. We all know how that worked out, so for that reason, and many, many others, no one will write the Celtics off after their most recent Game 1 debacle. To do so would be an insult to all this team has accomplished, and an oversight of all that Miami hasnt. Maybe you cant sit here and say with confidence that the Celtics will come out like gangbusters on Tuesday, but you cant rule out the possibility. For the optimist, thats still the expectation, but even the pessimist has to leave the window open. After all, these are the Celtics. Theyve made us look like fools before.

But before looking forward to Tuesday, its probably worth taking a quick look back. Not too far, either. Just to the Knicks series.

Im not sure anyone ever completely grasped what went on there, or was entirely sure what to take from it. On one hand, it was a sweep; the only sweep of the first round. What more could you ask for, right?

But there was also a weird sense of uncertainty that lingered from that series. The underlying feeling that even in winning four straight, the Celtics never looked completely in sync.

That they were unbelievably close to dropping Game 1, before Doc Rivers and Ray Allen barely saved the day. That they were unbelievably close to dropping Game 2, despite the Knicks playing without two of the three proven players on their roster. Game 3 was impressive, definitely the most promising of the four, but in that last game, against a team that had nothing left to play for, the Celtics still gave you plenty of reasons to scratch your head. They won four games, but who they beat and how they did it was never entirely satisfying. Of course, you could never complain. You dont complain about a sweep. Thats be like bitching about a few hours of rain on your vacation. Sure, its not ideal, but you still spent the day getting drunk under a cabana instead of sitting at your desk playing Angry Birds. Its still great.

But even if we werent complaining, we were certainly allowed to question how much, if anything, those wins meant to the big picture; if the Celtics were, in fact, that much better than they were at the end of the season. And Sundays loss to the Heat didnt do much to answer those questionsor at least not in the way you wanted.

Of course, I still picked the Celtics to win this series in seven. I did, and still do think that they have what it takes to get to Chicago, but no one can ignore the fact that if you take away those four whatever-they-were wins against the Knicks, the Celtics we saw on Sunday looked a hell of a lot like the team we saw lose the last time they were in Miami. Back when everything was a mess, every loss meant the end of the world, and we were convinced that, even at their best, Boston no longer had the firepower to contend with the healthier, stronger and more dynamic Heat.

Again, maybe that was just for one night.

Or in this case, now two.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Tatum 'can't wait' for new challenge with Celtics

Tatum 'can't wait' for new challenge with Celtics

BOSTON – While the newest Boston Celtics were scattered about while at a community service event, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum was sitting in a really comfortable-looking chair, resting. 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind unlike any he had ever experienced, beginning with the pre-draft process, to workouts, to the draft itself and all the appearances and media engagements that have followed. 

“It’s a lot,” Tatum, grinning, told CSNNE.com. “But I’m taking it one day at a time.”

That steady-as-she-goes approach served him well during his lone season at Duke. 

Keeping an even-keeled approach will bode well for him as he gears up for his first taste of NBA basketball beginning with summer league practice this week in preparation for next week’s summer league action which begins in Salt Lake City. 

Boston’s summer league opener will be July 3 against Philadelphia and the top overall pick Markelle Fultz, at the University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Tatum, who has not played in a five-on-five game since Duke’s loss to South Carolina in the NCAA tournament, is admittedly excited to get back on the floor this week. 

“I can’t wait,” he said. 

Celtics Nation feels the same way about Tatum, selected with the third overall pick in last week’s NBA draft. 

Although it’s only a preseason game, there will be expectations and with that, possibly some added pressure for Tatum to show he was such a coveted player by the Celtics. 

“That’s why Duke helped me a lot,” he told CSNNE.com. “Duke, the best program in college basketball, we were always on the national spotlight good or bad, whether we were winning or losing. That will help me a lot preparing for the Boston Celtics.”

And like Duke, Tatum will have to fight his way on to the court although he readily admits the challenge is much greater in the NBA. 

“Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder … we didn’t have those guys at Duke,” Tatum said. “It’s gonna be tough; just try my best and get in where I fit in.”

Tatum said he will at times lean on his more experienced teammates, one of which was a former teammate of his – sort of – in Jaylen Brown. 

“I’ve known Jaylen for a while,” Tatum said. “We played with and against each other in high school at AAU camps. 

Tatum added, “at the AAU camps, sometimes we were on the same team and sometimes we were not.”

While much has been made about how the two are similar, Tatum sees both having strengths that complement, rather than compete, with each other. 

“He’s further along than Jaylen was skill-wise and he’s not as far along as Jaylen physically,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “Again, he’s 19 years old. I don’t want to put any expectations … I want to give him time to grow. We’ll see. He’ll definitely have a role, get a chance to play. And how well he performs is up to him.”

Tatum’s assessment of his game and Brown’s goes as follows:

“He’s a lot stronger, bigger than me,” Tatum, who is 6-foot-8, 204 pounds, acknowledged. “He’s much more athletic. Offensively, I think that’s what I excel in, being smooth and my ability to score. I can just learn from him, the things that he went through last year.”

One of the things he has already picked up on, is that Brown is a pretty smart – and at times clever – dude. 

Not long after Tatum picked jersey number 11, Brown, who wears number 7, took to social media and came up with a 7-11 theme that has already lead to some pretty snazzy t-shirt designs. 

“I thought it was funny,” Tatum said. “It’s catchy; I like it.”

And the Celtics really like Tatum’s game which has been compared at times to former Celtic great Paul Pierce. 

“I hate to make those comparisons when kids are 19 and let his game evolve into whatever it is,” Ainge said. “The similarity is they have good footwork. They both have really good ways to create space for shots. But the similarity … they’re both very good defensive rebounders. Those are two things that stand out to me with Jayson that are Paul characteristics.”

Tatum knows he’s a long way from being in the same company as Celtic royalty such as Pierce. 

Before then he must first earn minutes on the floor which will not be an easy task. 

But Tatum’s demeanor, much like his game, has seemingly always been a bit more mature than most of his fellow basketball brethren. 

Tatum credits his parents, Justin Tatum and Brandy Cole.

“They raised me to be different, be more mature and stand out above the crowd and be my own person and be comfortable in my skin,” Tatum said. “That’s how I’ve always been.”

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: How does the Chris Paul trade affect the Celtics?

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0:41 - Tom Curran, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith discuss the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul and how that trade can actually have an affect on the Celtics plans.

5:06 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to talk about if the Celtics are the front runners for Paul George, what would be too much to give up to the Pacers, and why it’s important to sign Hayward before trading for George.

11:21 - Evan Drellich joins from Fenway Park to discuss Rick Porcello getting his 10th loss of the season and if the struggling offense might be a season-long problem. 

14:58 - Tom Curran and Kayce Smith give their thoughts on Nate Burleson saying that Julian Edelman is the most under-appreciated receiver in the last 10 years.