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Tatum, Celtics Are Within One Win Of NBA Finals

And they’re outperforming LeBron James to do it too.

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NBA: Playoffs-Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics
May 23, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) high-fives fans as he walks off of the court after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Former Duke star Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics triumphed again over LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-83, to go up 3-2 and retain the home court advantage.

Tatum, who as a teenager unsuccessfully asked LeBron James to follow him back on Twitter, had a beautiful moment in this game when he streaked towards the basket after a Cleveland turnover with only James back to defend.

Tatum got there first and James yielded, allowing Tatum to score and run back downcourt triumphantly.

What must he have felt at that moment? Sure he might’ve thought “that’ll teach you not to follow me back, James!” Our guess though is that, as much as anything, he saw James in the open court and realized he could take the best player in the world on the break which would make him, still a kid in many respects, pretty damned good himself.

The Boston Globe talked to his father, Justin, about his son and how much Jayson has grown.

He says a number of interesting things but not many are more interesting than what he said about Al Horford: . “Al has done wonders for him. Wonders. I couldn’t have asked for him to be around better vets, mild-mannered and family-oriented type of guys.”

That’s pretty revealing.

For all of GM Danny Ainge’s wheeling and dealing, admittedly spectacular, he has pulled off something really impressive: he’s put together a fairly wholesome NBA team.

This is no small deal.

NBA teams are full of guys like Patrick Ewing, Dennis Rodman, JR Smith, The Birdman and all sorts of people who have less than desirable social habits (Ewing was caught up in the Gold Club Scandal and was embarrassed by his testimony. All things considered, it was pretty impressive that Georgetown, a Jesuit school, hired him in spite of that history).

We’ve said before that families that push their kids to get to the league as soon as possible are committing a particular form of child abuse because those kids are going to get exposed to some pretty shocking things in a big hurry.

So it’s impressive that Ainge has put together a group that Mr. Tatum finds wholesome and supportive.

Boston of course has done this in spite of significant injuries, in particular to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, which has led some to ask: what happens next year?

It’s a fair question. Boston’s young core - Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart - are way ahead of schedule.

Boston is pretty young overall with only Horford (31) and Aron Baynes (also 31) over 28.

The one thing the Celtics are lacking is a really great young big man. It looks less likely that Anthony Davis will be going anywhere and with an Achilles injury, DeMarcus Cousins is damaged goods.

However, there is one young big man who is supposedly unhappy and more interestingly, his current coach values players who can really defend, and Boston has a lot of those sorts of guys.

We’re talking about Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns and T-Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau. Boston has multiple draft picks and a number of guys who would fit Thibodeau’s defensive-first system.

We could see bundling Hayward, Smart and some draft picks to get Towns, whose versatility would fit Boston perfectly.

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