Jayson Tatum has sights set on big picture as Celtics brace for Bulls

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 8:34 PM

With the NBA All-Star Game returning to the Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference format, Boston Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were able to giddily team up.

Tatum and Brown combined for 56 points as the East coasted to a 211-186 victory, and now the duo will return to the court for the top team in the league when Boston faces the host Chicago Bulls on Thursday night to open the second half of the season.

“It was pretty cool,” Brown said of getting to play alongside Tatum in Indianapolis. “We got the win, and we had fun. I think it’s just another platform to continue to raise for yourself but also raise for the city of Boston, just represent. I think that’s what we kind of look at it as. That’s what we’ve become.”

Boston entered the All-Star break with six straight wins — its third streak this season of at least that many victories –and is coming off a 50-point home win against the Brooklyn Nets on Feb. 14.

Balance has boosted the Celtics, who have five players with scoring averages in double figures, led by Tatum (27.1 points per game), Brown (22.0) and Kristaps Porzingis (20.2).

Also the team leader in rebounds per game (8.6) and the co-leader in assists per game (4.8), Tatum is aware of the chatter about his league MVP candidacy, but he is quick to cast it aside as the Celtics pursue a championship.

“They have individual awards for a reason,” Tatum said. “As a competitor, as a player, you grew up watching your favorite players winning MVP and first-team All-NBA and all that.

“Of course you want to win those things. But you can’t take precedent over playing the right way and doing the things that you have to do in order for your team to essentially be the best team in the league and have a chance to win a championship.”

Chicago hopes to gain stability for the stretch run after resetting during the break. While the Bulls have not been over .500 this season nor at the break-even mark since Oct. 30, they enter the second half in ninth place in the East with room to ascend.

“The last couple of weeks have been kind of crazy for us with injuries, dealing with all the noise on the outside and the trade rumors,” said Bulls leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (22.7 ppg). “Emotionally, physically, mentally, we took on a tall task, and we pushed through it. Now we can kind of just breathe a little and gather our minds and emotions.

“Get some bodies back and get rejuvenated for the next 27 games. We’re going to need to put everything and more into those.”

The Bulls’ front office stood pat at the deadline after learning potential trade chip Zach LaVine needed season-ending foot surgery.

Steady play and leadership from DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic — coupled with the emergence of guard Coby White, who is averaging 24.2 points per game and shooting 44.7 percent from deep in February — have fueled the organization’s optimism.

Boston routed the visiting Bulls 124-97 on Nov. 28. Brown poured in 30 points and Tatum chipped in 21 to lead six Celtics scorers in double figures.

The teams are 5-5 in their past 10 meetings and split four games last season, with the home team prevailing each time.

–Field Level Media