The small forward position happens to be one of the deepest in Celtics history.
A look at the Celtics’ depth chart at this position would reveal NBA all-time legends John Havlicek, Larry Bird, and Paul Pierce occupying the top spots, all leading the team to stay championship contenders in different eras.
If the Celtics’ knack of drafting a great small forward that would go on to be the face of their franchise had not been validated in the past two years, the 2020 first round series should already do the trick.
The Celtics got some bad news when they are to open this series. Gordon Hayward, himself in the conversation for Celtics Top 10 spot for this position, suffered an ankle sprain that will sideline him for the next four weeks.
It turned out, the Celtics had nothing to worry at least for the first round as the team came through to deal the Philadephia 76ers a sweep.
According to Inside the NBA, it is the 76ers first sweep loss against the Celtics in 14 playoff matches totaling to 81 games and the first since 1999 when Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers knocked out the Allen Iverson-led Sixers in the Eastern conference semis.
One of the men responsible for the feat is forward Jayson Tatum.
Jayson Tatum had been a staple part of the Celtics main rotation since he was surprisingly drafted 3rd overall two years ago.
It will be recalled that the Celtics made a controversial move during the 2017 NBA draft by trading down from 1st overall to 3rd, allowing Philly to draft Markelle Fultz first with the Los Angeles Lakers taking Lonzo Ball next and still getting their man.
His play this series completely validated what the Celtics saw in him that 76ers and the Lakers did not. It should erase whatever doubts that still linger despite his shining performances in the Celtics’ previous two post-seasons.
Tatum exploded in the first two games to lead the Celtics’ surge to a 2-0 series lead.
Tatum contributed 32 points and 13 rebounds, both playoff career-highs, while spicing them with 3 blocks in a Game 1 Celtics 109-101 win.
Together with co-small forward Jaylen Brown, who was also picked third overall a year earlier, they combined for 61 of the Celtics’ 109 points.
Brown finished with 29 points, 15 coming beyond the arc, and 3 steals.
According to StatMuse, Tatum is the only fourth Celtic to register with 30+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 3+ blocks in a playoff game since 1983, joining Kevin McHale (2x), Robert Parish, and Pierce.
He even did better in the scoring department in Game 2, resetting his personal best 33 points in 31 minutes in a 128-101 blowout win.
StatMuse named him the youngest player in Celtics history with back-to-back 30-point playoff games.
The superstar forward was on fire from 3-point range as he sank eight of his 12 attempts, the first Celtic to hit 8 threes in an NBA Playoffs game since Ray Allen did it on April 22, 2011 (NBA.com/stats). Those eight conversions 3-point shots are the most ever in a single playoff game by a player 22 years old or younger.
The previous highs for most 3-point shots in a playoff game by a player 22 years old or younger was LeBron James with seven, and then Kobe Bryant with six.
Tatum also came close to tying the Celtics team record for 3-point shots in one playoff game, finishing one behind Allen. He is only the third Celtic to hit 8 or more triples in a playoff game in Celtics history, joining Allen (3x) and Pierce. (StatMuse)
The 76ers limited Tatum to just 15 points on 6 of 19 shooting while sitting the entire second quarter with 3 fouls in a 102-94 Game 3 Celtics win.
He, however, made his presence felt by blocking four shots including key swats on Joel Embiid and Josh Richardson during the last 1:40 minutes of the game when Boston iced the game on be 10-0 run,
Tatum was back to his usual self in Game 4 by tallying 28 points and resetting his playoff career-high in rebounds to 15 as the Celtics finished off the Sixers, 110-106.
The Celtics are 14-3 this season, including the playoffs, when Tatum scores at least 30 points. (NBA.com/stats)
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No matter how the 2020 playoffs end for the Celtics, one thing is certain for the franchise going forward: a legitimate challenger for Bird, Havlicek, and Pierce for a prime spot in Celtics small forward rankings has been officially born.
Granting the Celtics decided to keep Tatum for the long haul and he keeps on putting performances like these as expected, here’s what he’s after for in replacing one, if not all, in the pecking order of “Who’s who” in Celtic small forward folklore:
3, Paul Pierce
Pierce leads the franchise in steals (1,583), three pointers (1,823) and free throws (6,434), second in scoring (24,021) and games played (1,102), fourth in blocks with (668), and fifth in assists (4,305) third.
Pierce averaged 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.4 steals during his 15 seasons in Celtics green. The highest point of his Celtics career came during the 2007-08 season when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined him and bagged a championship in their first season together.
His performance during the finals earned him a Finals MVP. He is a 10-time All-Star, a Three-point Shootout winner and an excellent clutch performer who thrived in moments where there was no secret who the ball was going to for a final shot.
Pierce’s ability to finish off opponents did not only resonate in Boston but also includes unforgettable buzzer-beating shots and plays in Brooklyn and Washington.
Pierce became a household name in his fourth year in the league when Shaquille O’Neal witnessed him pour 42 points from 13-of-19 shooting on Lakers’ home floor in 2001, prompting him to dub Pierce “The Truth”.
Two of his memorable Celtic moments are his shootout with Lebron James in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals and his leading a historic Celtics comeback in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals.
James finished that game with 45 points but Pierce countered with 41 and a crucial recovery in the dying seconds to lift the Celtics to a 97-92 win in 2002 over the Cavs that earned them a spot in the NBA Finals.
The entire Celtics squad was struggling in their match-up with the Jason Kidd-led New Jersey Nets in 2002, trailing by as many 26 points during the third quarter and entered the fourth frame down 74-53.
The Celtics are in a real bind as no team in NBA playoffs history had ever come back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth-quarter. Teams with a lead of at least 19 points entering the fourth are 171-0 up until this point.
That’s when Pierce went on a scoring tear, pouring 19 points during the final frame on 6-of-7 shooting from the field, outscoring the entire Nets team. The Celtics scoring spree resulted to a 41-16 quarter and reversing the deficit to an improbable 94-90 win.
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2. John Havlicek
“Hondo” is leading the franchise in scoring (26,395), minutes played (46,471) and games played (1,270); second in assists (6,114) ; and fifth in rebounds (8,007).
His wizardry with the ball propelled him to eight NBA titles with the Celtics, 13-time All-Star nominations, four All-NBA first team honors and the MVP of the 1974 NBA Finals.
Havlicek is also a top-notch defender as evidenced by his eight appearances on All-Defense squads, All-Defensive First Team from 1972–1976 and Second Team from 1969–1971.
Havlicek’s star did not show its entire shine early in his career as he became a bonafide scorer only when he broke out of his sixth-man role into a permanent starter in his fifth season.
Havlicek played 16 seasons with the Celtics and averaged 20 points or more in eight straight seasons. He compiled game averages of 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists during his career.
His most famous association with the Celtics would have to be the radio broadcaster screaming “Havlicek stole the ball!” in the 1965 Eastern Conference finals.
This was the result of Havlicek’s leaping deflection to teammate Sam Jones of 76ers Hal Greer’s inbounds pass in the dying seconds of Game 7 of this series.
Jones dribbled out the rest of regulation and passed the ball back to Havlicek, who launched a half-hearted shot towards the basket as time expired, preserving a 110-109 win for the Eastern Division championship en route to their seventh straight NBA title.
1. Larry Bird
Larry Legend is second in franchise ranking in steals (1,556); third in points (21,791), assists (5,695), and blocks (755); and fourth in rebounds (8,974),
He is probably one of the two the most iconic players to put on a Celtics jersey, Bill Russell being the other. He will be best remembered as the best Celtics clutch performer and one of the best in NBA history for having ice-cold water in his veins during high-stakes, high-pressure situations.
He was drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft but suit up only a year later in exchange for what would be a college championship appearance in his senior year.
Bird would go on to play 13 years for the Celtics where he would lead them to three titles (1981, 1984, 1986).
His individual citations include the 1980 Rookie of the Year, NBA record three straight Most Valuable Player from 1984-86, two Finals MVPs, membership to the All-NBA First Team for nine straight seasons (1980-88), and three All-Defensive Second Teams.
He was a 12-time All-Star, the MVP of the 1982 All-Star Game, and won the Three-Point Contest three straight years (1986-88).
Fittingly, these top statistical performance samples of his career is a testament to how he and his skill set shaped up the Celtics.
Bird was the first player in NBA history to shoot 50%+ shooting from the floor, 40%+ shooting from three point distance, and 90%+ shooting from the line with required minimums. He did it twice during the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons.
Bird scored 24.3 points a game in his career on 49.6% field goal shooting, 37.6% from three-point land, an 88.6% free throw shooting.
He missed a quadruple double on February 18, 1985 against the Utah Jazz where already recorded 30 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 9 steals in just three quarters, saying he had already done enough damage when informed about the missing the opportunity to complete the quadruple-double.
Bird had an average of 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals a game in his career.
His best Celtics moments are probably his 4th quarter shootout with Dominique Wilkins during Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semis and his iconic steal and assist during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
Bird poured 20 of his 34 points in the fourth on 15-for-24 shooting to answer Wilkins’ 47 points, 12 in the fourth, on 19-for-33 shooting in a 118-116 Celtics win.
Bird’s stealing off the inbounds play and subsequently dishing to Dennis Johnson for the game-winning layup with 5 seconds left in regulation resulted to a crucial 107-106 Game 5 win gave them better odds to wrap up the series in seven games and advanced to their fourth straight NBA Finals.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
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