Celtics Notebook: Tatum-Brown tandem powering C's to Finals contender status

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Jayson Tatum is the talk of the NBA this week. But let's not forget about Jaylen Brown.

While Tatum has all but sewn up another Eastern Conference Player of the Week nod following a three-game stretch where he poured in 36.7 points per game on 63 percent shooting, nailing five three-pointers a night, Brown has been a reliable running mate in the absence of Kemba Walker, chipping in 21.3 points over the same time period.

You have to go back to early January to find a game where Brown scored fewer than 17 points.

The Celtics navigated a tough post-All Star break schedule like a touring rock 'n' roll band, storming the stage in each new city and winning new fans every night. Tatum and Brown have been lead singer and guitarist, respectively, and the hope is to see Walker and Gordon Hayward as a full-fledged rhythm section in the near future. When healthy, Walker has been the spectacular yet steady bass and Hayward capable of a Neil Peart-like outburst on the kit.

Jan 24, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (8) talks with guard Marcus Smart (36) and forward Gordon Hayward (20) and center Daniel Theis (27) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (8) talks with guard Marcus Smart (36) and forward Gordon Hayward (20) and center Daniel Theis (27) against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics had a predicament in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers that proved just how much they need Walker. But they also showed the resolve to gut through a back-to-back in two of the toughest barns in the NBA (Portland and Utah) to remain in the hunt for the 2-seed in the East.

The Celtics aren't going anywhere, and they may just be able to hack the TI-83 graphing calculators that have made the Bucks so dominant this season. They're contenders.

How are Things on the East Coast?

We've said it time and time again: the Celtics need the 2-seed.

That gifts them a first round playoff matchup with the Nets or Magic and keeps them away from the Bucks in round 2. While Boston has been hot of late, they're still a game behind the Raptors, cooling off after a 15-game winning streak.

But catching and fending off the Raptors may be all the Celtics have to worry about, as the rest of the Eastern Conference contenders have disappeared into a thicket like Homer Simpson.

Dec 28, 2019; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (8) during the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 28, 2019; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) shoots over Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (8) during the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Miami has drifted a full five games back of the third seed and are now tied with Philadelphia, dealing with injuries to both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The sixth-place Pacers have also struggled adding Victor Oladipo to the mix and just lost key reserve Jeremy Lamb for the season.

The NBA landscape can shift on one turned ankle. Boston's best shot at getting out of the East might just be getting everybody healthy and staying that way, which is why Walker's knee troubles loom large.

Pivot Minute

With Robert Williams down due to a hip injury, Enes Kanter's play initially forced a near 50-50 timeshare at the center position with Daniel Theis. But since early February, Theis has taken his game to another level. And now Williams appears ready to return.

Theis has continued to improve in his third year, tallying double digits in his last seven games and collecting 10 or more rebounds in two of them. All told, he’s averaging 14.7 points (on nearly 60 percent shooting) with 9.4 rebounds per night in 27 minutes per game during that stretch.

Feb 26, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Boston Celtics center Daniel Theis (27) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2020; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Boston Celtics center Daniel Theis (27) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Kanter’s cracked the 20-minute mark just once in that span - Wednesday’s win over Utah, a team that features a traditional big in Rudy Gobert. But Kanter also logged just five minutes against the Lakers and their giant lineup.

While Kanter’s contributions have been laudable, it seems like Brad Stevens' small ball fantasy has become an inevitability. He's only seeing serious burn in the most favorable matchups.

What that means for Williams, the super-athletic Texas A&M product with untapped offensive and defensive potential, we’re soon to find out.

A look ahead...

The C’s return to TD Garden Saturday with another tough matchup against the Houston Rockets, a team they lost to a couple of weeks back. The Rockets were just starting their drastic small ball experiment at the time, and they’ve won five in a row tracing back to that date. They’re also averaging 122 points and outscoring opponents by a Bucks-like 15 points per game over that stretch. Russell Westbrook has scored 30 or more in four of his last five.

Feb 11, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a play during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 11, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after a play during the third quarter against the Boston Celtics at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The C’s catch another back-to-back next week, and both are sub-.500 teams. The Kyrie-less Nets look like a promising matchup, but keep an eye on the Cleveland game the next night. The formerly punchless Cavs have won four of five, including victories over the Heat and Sixers.

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. His Celtics notebook appears weekly on 985thesportshub.com. Talk C's with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.