Defense no longer Celtics' identity

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Defense no longer Celtics' identity

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON When you look at all the changes the Boston Celtics have made lately, it's clear that they have added more weapons offensively.

But at what cost?

The Celtics are still one of the NBA's upper echelon teams defensively, even with all the new faces.

But as far as defense remaining this team's identity?

The more you watch them play, the more this point becomes debatable.

You can add one more reason to question this team's foundation being about defense, following Friday night's 93-77 loss at Houston.

Houston only shot 43.8 percent from the field, and scored less than 100 points - the kind of defensive benchmarks you would ideally like to see every game.

But what's lost in the numbers, is how that defense was impacted by the Celtics offense not getting off to a good start.

Houston opened the game with an 8-1 spurt, fueled in large part by the Celtics' inability to make shots that on most nights, usually fall in.

Those missed shots seemed to result in some frustration that eventually seeped into the team's defensive efforts.

And just like that, the Celtics found themselves on the short end of a potential blowout - before halftime.

"We showed them seven, point-blank shots at the basket (at halftime) that didn't go in," Rivers said. "I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots."

Rivers added, "that's uncharacteristic of us. But I definitely thought our offense led to our bad defense."

That is a damning commentary when you consider how much stock the Celtics put into being a stout, gritty defensive-minded team.

"Even though we missed shots, we missed lay-ups, that should never discourage us of how we play night-in and night-out on the defensive end," said Paul Pierce. "We got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court (throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs), if we want to be on top of the East. We have to wake up inside if we're going to consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record."

Kevin Garnett is the anchor of the Celtics defense, which has been among the NBA's best ever since Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to form the Big Three in 2007.

And as much as Garnett prides himself and his teammates in putting defense first, he can't say with any degree of certainty whether or not the C's allowed their offensive woes early on against the Rockets impact their play at the other end of the floor.

"I want to say no, because we're a defensive team and we can't let offense dictate defense," Garnett said. "But it certainly seemed that way. They got into an early rhythm and it was hard to turn them off."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Tatum easing into new challenge with Celtics

Tatum easing into 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.