If Celtics wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are to make their first All-Star Game as teammates, they will have to be selected as Eastern Conference reserves. Neither player was voted in as a starter in the final returns released Thursday night.
Tatum, who was named a reserve last season, finished fourth in the voting for three frontcourt starters, behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant. Fans accounted for half of the vote, with players and a panel of media members each accounting for a quarter.
Tatum, who is averaging 25.8 points, 7 rebounds and 4.7 assists, was fourth in the fan vote and fifth in both the player and media votes.
Brown is likely on the verge of making his first All-Star team. The fifth year wing, who is averaging 25.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists, finished fifth in the voting for two backcourt spots behind starters Kyrie Irving (Nets) and Bradley Beal (Wizards), as well as Brooklyn guard James Harden and Bulls guard Zach LaVine. Brown finished fifth in the fan and player votes and second on the media ballots.
The Eastern Conference coaches will select the seven reserves, which will be announced next Thursday. Team captains LeBron James and Kevin Durant will then select their respective teams for the March 7 game in Atlanta.
Lost in transition
Just over a minute into the loss to the Hawks Wednesday, forward Javonte Green came up with a steal and coasted in for a lefthanded layup. It was a good start for the Celtics defense, and the basket gave them a chance to reset as Atlanta mounted its counterattack.
But Trae Young scooped up the ball and fired an inbounds pass to Cam Reddish, who needed just four seconds to blitz upcourt and convert a mostly uncontested layup. Green fell down after scoring, briefly leaving the Celtics slightly undermanned, but their generally poor transition defense following baskets has been an increasing issue recently.
“I think that’s an area that has to improve if you’re going to have any chance of being a good team,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Obviously our defensive numbers have continued to go up, but it’s just such a small margin of error for being a good defense or not, and those baskets kill you.
“So you have to do a better job of that. There’s no doubt about that. I feel like there’s been more of those this year in 28 games or whatever it is than there was [all of last season].”
During the recent skid, Celtics players have acknowledged their energy level has not always been up to their standard. Yes, there have been challenges. They’ve been considerably shorthanded, Sunday’s game was jammed into one of their few brief breaks, the schedule is already condensed, and fans are not there to lift them up.
“Just trying to get up every single game and come with the same intensity and tenacity,” Brown said. “[Wednesday] we were a little bit sluggish. I was a little bit sluggish, and that kind of carried over.
“And that’s just the challenge of this year, you know, and all of us are trying to embrace that challenge together with the ups and downs and not make excuses, because everybody’s going through the same thing. So we’ve just got to continue to fight and improve.”
Tristan Thompson said the Celtics need to look past the factors that are not working in their favor and give themselves a jolt.
“Of course, having our fans in the arena would definitely give us a boost of energy, but the reality is we don’t have that right now, so we’ve got to do that collectively as a group,” he said. “It’s got to come from all 15 guys. We can’t rely on the coach to give us energy. We can’t rely on the fake sound. It’s got to be all of us collectively, and that’s what we’ve got to string together right now.”
Reinforced in rematch
Friday’s rematch against the Hawks concludes the Celtics’ fourth set of back-to-back games against the same team this season. They have lost the first game in all four situations. They followed up losses to the Pacers and Pistons with wins, then lost twice to the 76ers.
“You want to treat this like an opportunity to look at a team like in a second game of a playoff series, those types of things,” Stevens said. “And obviously I don’t know if they’ll have new guys available, but we will, and there will be some changes there.”
Celtics point guard Kemba Walker missed Wednesday’s game to rest his left knee but will play Friday. Center Daniel Theis, who missed the last two games with a sprained index finger, is likely to rejoin the lineup as well. Guard Marcus Smart remains out because of a left calf strain. It is appearing increasingly likely he will not return until after the All-Star break.