Tatum, Fournier Lead C’s to Morale-Boosting Win in Minnesota
With their postseason seed locked in, the seventh-place Boston Celtics opted to leave most of their core players home for their final road trip of the regular season, allowing them to fully heal from minor injuries and be well-rested for the play-in round. But for a fully healthy Evan Fournier and Jayson Tatum, this trip was treated like any other.
Even though these last two games are meaningless from a seeding standpoint, they still hold value from a morale standpoint heading into the postseason. And that’s exactly why both Fournier and Tatum not only traveled with the team, but also played major minutes during Saturday’s 124-108 win in Minnesota.
“Tatum and Fournier in particular thought it was important for them to play today, to feel good about where they are and the rhythm that they have going into next week,” head coach Brad Stevens said of the wing duo’s decision to play Saturday. “They are both guys that practiced hard yesterday, came to play today ... they just like to play.
“I think Evan, every time he gets on the court post-COVID has been good, like he gets a little more comfortable each time. Jayson just loves to play and loves to compete and likes to be part of the whole thing, so I think it's a good thing (that they decided to play).”
Both players were instrumental in the win, as Tatum contributed a game-high 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Fournier chipped in with 18 points and six assists. They were also both subbed in late in the game to help the team close out the win, as Stevens wanted to make sure that they finished on a high note.
“People can say games don't mean as much, whatever the case may be," said Stevens. “We needed to feel good. We needed to get a good win after playing well the whole day and I thought it was really important when we step on this plane today to feel a little bit better going in with the right mentality. Taking what we talked about in practice yesterday about paying the right way defensively and offensively together and finishing the game. So I put them in to finish the game.”
It was also an important game for Boston’s second- and third-string players, as guys like Luke Kornet (six points, seven, rebounds, four blocks), Romeo Langford (eight points), Aaron Nesmith (nine points), Semi Ojeleye (six points, seven rebounds), Jabari Parker (nine points), Payton Pritchard (11 points, four steals), and Tremont Waters (14 points, seven assists) all stepped in to play significant roles.
It was also vital for each of those players to get some time with both Fournier and Tatum, as any one of them could be seeing postseason minutes down the line.
“I knew that we had a lot of guys that weren’t able to play, so that meant a lot of the other guys would get an opportunity,” said Tatum. “So just to come out there, kind of play with different groups and different lineups, have everybody get an opportunity, and just a chance to play well.”
It also gave Fournier an extra chance to build chemistry with Tatum, considering how he had only played 15 games with the Celtics prior to this weekend. That was one of the main reasons why the veteran wing wanted to play Saturday, despite having a rare opportunity to rest without facing potential playoff seeding consequences.
“Every chance I get to play with Jayson, Kemba, all the key guys on this team, it’s a great opportunity for me to understand their spots, their tendencies, what they like to do, how I can help them,” Fournier said. “Especially Jayson, in his iso situations, how I can be a spot-up shooter right next to him and basically give him more options. We actually talked about it a little bit at halftime. There was a situation where I needed to open up some space for him, and I’ve got to keep working at that.”
The team also wanted to focus on building winning habits heading into the postseason, which was Tatum’s primary motivation in suiting up.
“That was kind of the reason I wanted to play,” he said “Just to kind of get in a rhythm and kind of just feel good about ourselves and have a game where we just felt like we played well regardless of the outcome.”
Not only did the Celtics play well, but they also picked up a win. And despite it not having any possible impact on the final standings, it was a fulfilling victory since it helped to build chemistry and morale among Fournier, Tatum and Boston’s eager role players.