Tatum Locks C's in Ahead of Hawks Matchup
The Boston Celtics have created some positive momentum this week, defeating their last two opponents by a combined total of 82 points. However, Jayson Tatum doesn’t want his group becoming complacent as they prepare for a challenging road matchup against the Atlanta Hawks’ Eastern Conference-leading offense Friday night.
Tatum was extra expressive at Friday morning’s shootaround where he, according to Al Horford, implored his teammates to stay focused and continue to build on the winning habits they’ve displayed of late.
"I think our guys understand that we need to continue to build and continue to get better,” said Horford. “And JT was very vocal about that in our shootaround today in understanding that we needed to stay locked in and come out ready to play. Tonight, this is going to be a big challenge. Atlanta's been playing really well, and I think we all know that. So we're looking at this as an opportunity to come out and compete, and continue to build on how we've been playing."
It will be a big challenge for Tatum in particular, as he tries to keep pace with NBA scoring leader Trae Young. Atlanta’s starting point guard is the only player in the league who has accumulated more total points than Tatum, owning a 19-point lead over the Celtics wing with 1,191 in the scoring column.
The Celtics did a stellar job containing Young in their previous matchup on Nov. 17, limiting Young to a season-low four field goal makes along with a season-worst 0-for-6 effort from 3-point range despite missing key defensive cogs in Jaylen Brown and Rob Williams.
Though Boston is aware that Young has a strong history against them, including last season when he scored 30-plus in all three matchups.
“Regarding Young, he's obviously one of the top scorers that you have to have a lot of attention to,” said C’s head coach Ime Udoka. “We want to make him beat us with isolations all game. He's really a threat when he can score in the 30s and get 13,14 assists. He's got the lob threats there, picking the gym apart, so we want to keep bodies in front of him. Make him work for everything, use our length and size advantages there.”
This time around, Boston has a fully healthy roster and a starting five that is beginning to establish some continuity and chemistry. The combination of Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum, Horford, and Williams has the best defensive rating among all lineups in the NBA, and they will certainly be tested against the team with the best offensive rating in the East.
“I think the biggest key is how engaged we need to be, and we need to continue to set the tone as a team,” Horford said of Boston’s defensive mindset. “With that five, I think Marcus, right at the top, doing what he does. And then obviously having a guy like Rob, and Jayson, and Jaylen, their length helps them. We just kind of all feed off each other. We're out there just trying to help one another on the defensive end and just staying solid.”
Remaining solid on that end and not losing focus was the gist of Tatum’s pre-game message.
Said Horford, “I think it was an important message for our group and everybody kind of falling in line."