Jayson Tatum's Historic Playoff Debut Continues, and Other Monday NBA Takeaways

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMay 1, 2018

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after hitting a three point shot against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second quarter of Game One of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The pressure is on for Jayson Tatum, but he didn't care during the Boston Celtics' 117-101 victory to open their second-round battle with the Philadelphia 76ers. His 28 points, three rebounds and two assists on 8-of-16 shooting from the field spoke volumes. 

Though the C's rookie has largely been overshadowed in the Rookie of the Year race by second-round opponent Ben Simmons and Utah Jazz sensation Donovan Mitchell, he's been yet another first-year player enjoying a fantastic inaugural campaign. He'll likely finish third in ROY voting (deservedly so for an award based solely on the regular season), but that's not a knock on his talent. 

Might he be submitting stronger numbers if he were playing on a weaker team that could ask him to fill a takeover role more regularly? If Game 1 of this current clash is any indication, he very well could be. Maybe he's only held back by Boston's egalitarian system.

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30:  Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO US
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

With Joel Embiid attempting to dissuade Al Horford from shooting too frequently and the Sixers throwing a host of bigger defenders at Terry Rozier, Tatum entered this affair with his team's most favorable matchup. He drew JJ Redick out of the gates, which gave him the opportunity to take advantage of a mismatch and punish Philadelphia whenever it didn't switch a more adept defender onto him. 

Throughout the contest, and especially during the second quarter, that worked wonders. 

Tatum twice began his experience in the Eastern Conference semifinals by driving to his right against Redick and forcing Embiid to help from the weak side. Both times, he drew whistles and earned trips to the charity stripe. But his game expanded as the Celtics placed more and more trust in him, and he started hitting tough jumpers on the move and making timely backdoor cuts like the one below: 

RealGM @RealGM

Duke on Duke crime as Jayson Tatum beats JJ Redick back door for the slam. https://t.co/WzcyufkoIQ

Everything worked in the second quarter as Tatum exploded for nine points, one rebound and one assist on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. He became the focal point of the Boston attack, and that alone shouldn't be overlooked. This historic organization doesn't tend to just hand over the reins to rookies in such pressure-packed moments, which speaks volumes to Tatum's preparedness and natural nose for scoring. 

With his 28-spot, he joined Larry Bird as one of only two rookies since 1964 to post such a lofty scoring tally during the postseason for this particular franchise. In fact, only 10 first-year players have ever notched double-digit points per game in the playoffs for the Celtics, and Tatum now ranks even more prominently among them: 

  1. Tom Heinsohn (1956-57): 22.9 points per game in 10 appearances
  2. Larry Bird (1979-80): 21.3 points per game in eight appearances
  3. Jayson Tatum (2017-18): 17.0 points per game in eight appearances
  4. Brian Shaw (1988-89): 17.0 points per game in three appearances
  5. Bob Cousy (1950-51): 14.0 points per game in two appearances
  6. Bill Russell (1956-57): 13.9 points per game in 10 appearances
  7. Dee Brown (1990-91): 12.2 points per game in 11 appearances
  8. Mike Bloom (1947-48): 12.0 points per game in three appearances
  9. John Havlicek (1962-63): 11.8 points per game in 11 appearances
  10. Frank Ramsey (1954-55): 10.7 points per game in seven appearances

Over half those men are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and we should note the rookie in question is at least two years younger than anyone else at the time of their first playoff run.

Obviously, we're not predicting Tatum will march all the way to Springfield. Not yet, at least. But he's off to a fantastic start during his inaugural playoff run and is capably shouldering an important scoring role and forcing the Sixers to pay for not respecting him with more defensive attention. 


Jayson Tatum crossover and finish! 👀 16-4 @celtics burst on @NBAonTNT #CUsRise 43 | #PhilaUnite 33 https://t.co/IC2xYY7Us0

Already, it's clear this youngster has every scoring tool imaginable. He's comfortable in spot-up situations. He's a smart cutter who understands space, angles and timing. He can create for himself on the perimeter, either side-stepping defenders running at him or attacking foes' bodies en route to the basket. 

This scoring onslaught isn't going to stop anytime soon, and the Celtics shouldn't have any qualms about handing him more keys to the offense. 


Please Stop Underrating Al Horford

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

If you already think Horford is an All-Star big man who deserves serious Defensive Player of the Year consideration for his efforts in 2017-18, this probably doesn't apply to you. But if you're having trouble accepting the Celtics center as a legitimate stud, no matter how nondescript his per-game line may appear, then please take all of the following to heart. 

Horford isn't your traditional center. He's not going to thrive on the glass, and you'll rarely see him rack up monstrous double-doubles as a result. Throwing the ball into him on the post and letting him go to work is a seldom-used strategy by Boston. 

But this former Atlanta Hawk can do everything, and that versatility was on full display in the 16-point victory. He finished with a strong 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists while going 10-of-12 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep and 4-of-4 from the stripe, and that still seems to sell him short.  

Horford showcased exactly why he's become the centerpiece for one of the league's stingiest defensive units. He can bang around with Embiid on the interior, refusing to cede ground until his younger counterpart is forced to hoist a contested jumper, go to his fall-back righty jump hook or pass the ball out for a shot-clock bailout. But then he might cover Simmons on the next possession, making the most of his quick feet to stay between the 6'10" point guard and the basket. 

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second quarter of Game One of Round Two of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on April 30, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Horford is the conductor for this defense. He might not block too many shots or rack up steals, but he's always forcing disadvantageous decisions while exhorting his supporting cast to rotate properly. 

And yet, he might have been even more impressive offensively Monday night. After all, what can't the 31-year-old do? 

He remains a top-notch secondary distributor comfortable directing traffic from the blocks or handling the rock on the perimeter. That Taum cut you saw above was fed by Horford. He can hit jumpers, and his range often extends beyond the three-point arc—yes, even if he didn't join the Boston three party until the second half of Game 1. If the Sixers make the mistake of switching someone onto him like poor, undersized Marco Belinelli, he can bully his way closer to the basket for a close-range finish:

Taylor Snow @taylorcsnow

Personally, I'm a big fan of the Al Horford - Marco Belinelli matchup. https://t.co/txbUIgUuNd

And what can you do against this kind of face-up game? 

Shea Serrano @SheaSerrano

the official Al Horford Torture Chamber https://t.co/JYtxSNeOuP

Or this turnaround fadeaway against a legitimate 7-footer? 


Al Horford fades away on the tough jumper! #CUsRise 37 | #PhilaUnite 33 midway through Q2. 📺: @NBAonTNT https://t.co/7mq9TCdo3g

When Horford is hitting jumpers without so much as rippling the net, the Celtics are probably in good shape. And when he outplays Embiid, it's not hard to understand how they can overcome a distinct talent disadvantage and live up to their superior seeding. 

Coming out of the regular season, Bleacher Report's Dan Favale and I had the Beantown center ranked No. 15 among all players suiting up in the playoffs. NBA Math's #CrystalBasketball project placed him at No. 23 among the whole league.

Horford began to justify those lofty rankings against the Milwaukee Bucks by averaging 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.4 blocks on a 58.8/43.8/76.5 slash line throughout the first round. Apparently, that wasn't just because of a favorable matchup. 


Ramped-up Difficulty? No Problem for Terry Rozier

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Terry Rozier #12 of the Boston Celtics shoots the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USE
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

If you're still holding out and refusing to buy into the Terry Rozier hype, your stance is getting increasingly tough to justify. Thriving against the undisciplined Milwaukee Bucks was one thing, but starting off strong—29 points, eight rebounds and six assists while shooting 11-of-18 from the field and 7-of-9 from downtown—against a more difficult matchup is another. 

For a bit of statistical perspective, 82games.com shows Milwaukee allowed opposing floor generals to post a 15.9 player efficiency rating during the regular season. Led by Simmons, who was so sensational on the preventing side that he sat at No. 6 among 1-guards in ESPN.com's defensive real plus/minus, Philly gave up a meager 14.9 PER.

And Simmons alone wasn't supposed to make life tough on Rozier. Robert Covington does that, as well. So too does the switchiness of the Sixers defense, which ensures that the breakout floor general is always faced with a tough matchup and a size disadvantage that belies his 6'2" frame.

But Rozier, who entered the arena wearing a Drew Bledsoe jersey, wasn't scared.  

Though he slowed down during the middle portion of the contest before coming up big in the fourth quarter to stave off some Philadelphia runs, he got off to a scorching start that set the tone for the night. Playing with relentless hustle and unshakable confidence, he popped off for 10 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block during the first quarter alone, highlighted by a sensational sequence in which he showed off his handles and passing vision on an alley-oop feed to Marcus Morris:

RealGM @RealGM

Terry Rozier handles to Morris for the lob slam. https://t.co/BGTCCuwd3N

With Kyrie Irving lost for the season, Rozier has to continue performing like this against the Sixers. This is his time to shine, and Game 1 was a clear signal he's not afraid of a bigger stage than the opening round. Just watch tape of the fourth quarter to witness all his big treys, and you'll have no doubt.

Every time Philadelphia left him open on the perimeter, he made the defense pay. He capitalized on his opponents' decision to go under screens. Perhaps most importantly, he was in control throughout the game despite operating with a score-first mentality, and that kept the vaunted 76ers defense on its heels from the opening tip through the final buzzer. 

Rozier has become more than just an X-factor. 


Philly Probably Needs to Shoot Better

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Robert Covington #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Wondering why the focus rests so strongly on the Celtics in a takeaways piece ostensibly geared toward covering both teams? Well, the Sixers didn't play like the Sixers. 

As Joel Embiid stated after the game, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated (NSFW language): "It starts on defense. I thought I was s--tty. I thought we were all bad tonight. That's not who we are, definitely. When everybody is on, we're the best defensive team in the game."

Ben Golliver @BenGolliver

Sixers' Joel Embiid after Game 1 loss to Celtics: "It starts on defense. I thought i was s---ty. I thought we were all bad tonight. That's not who we are, definitely. When everybody is on, we're the best defensive team in the game." https://t.co/5lVOtz9eum

Simmons was invisible for long stretches. The team walked back during some of the Celtics' transition opportunities. Embiid, regardless of his final scoring line, commandeered too many possessions with his iso-ball proclivities. And most significantly of all, even beyond the defensive woes to which the big man alluded, no one from the City of Brother Love could shoot from the perimeter with any semblance of consistency. 

Eleven teams took more triples than the Sixers during the regular season, while only seven posted a better percentage from beyond the rainbow. Despite operating with a point guard who literally won't attempt jumpers unless they're end-of-clock heaves, they emerged as one of the league's premier shooting squads with an offensive identity wrapped up in an ability to space the floor with marksmen such as Redick, Covington, Belinelli and Dario Saric. 

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Only four times did they drill fewer than a half-dozen treys through the first 82 contests, and they bottomed out at seven against the Miami Heat in the first round. They made fewer than a quarter of their deep attempts on just eight occasions

Both those numbers grew Monday night. Philadelphia went on a 5-of-26 brick-fest (19.2 percent) against the Celtics.

Saric, Covington and Ersan Ilyasova combined to post a goose egg on 11 attempts. Redick went 2-of-7. Embiid started the game with a make from the top of the key but could only drain one of his next four long-range attempts. Simmons, predictably, didn't even take a three. 

This simply wasn't Sixers basketball, and credit goes to the Celtics for compelling them into desperation shots and contesting most of the looks. Now, it's up to the shooters to experience some positive regression in Game 2 and work to even the series before it heads to Pennsylvania. 


Different Paths, Same Destination

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 18:  Head coach Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics and head coach Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers look on during their game at TD Garden on January 18, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Though Brett Brown and Brad Stevens are now coaching against one another for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, they arrived on this stage via completely different routes after beginning their journeys through the league in simultaneous fashion. 

The former suffered through the Philadelphia 76ers' longstanding rebuild, attempting to milk talent out of fringe NBA players while working with the future centerpieces on the roster during the early portion of the Process era. He oversaw a 19-win season during his rookie campaign in 2013-14, then watched helplessly as his troops only mustered 18 victories one year later before going a miserable 10-72 the very next go-round. 

But Brown never got the ax, and that's because the Philadelphia management understood what was happening. Even though the losses piled up, he was performing. They knew he could instill discipline into younger troops while working with the player-development team to realize upside, and their faith in him paid off—not just because he earned Coach of the Month honors for the first time in March. 

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 26:  Head coach Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics looks on in the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks during Game Six of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at the Bradley Center on April 26, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

That stands in stark contrast to Stevens, who left his program at Butler for a chance to helm the Celtics in 2013-14. He's earned the same award three times—spread out over three different seasons—during his Beantown tenure, and his adaptability and cool demeanor, as well as his brilliant plays out of dead-ball scenarios, have left him universally perceived as a top-tier coach. The tactical ability was already on full display in Game 1 as he made little moves like pairing Shane Larkin and Rozier together to force Marco Belinelli off the floor in the second quarter. 

Stevens has a 221-189 record (.539) during the regular season, and this is already his fourth venture into the postseason as he attempts to build upon last year's trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. On the flip side, Brown is 127-283 (.310) and has never coached a playoff squad before this season. 

Their journeys couldn't be any more different. But it sure seems like this is only the first of many high-profile clashes between two young squads led by promising sideline-pacers. 


Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@fromal09.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.comNBA Math or ESPN.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.