Joe Mazzulla Addresses if Celtics Will Use Jayson Tatum at Center vs. Pacers

May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dribbles the ball vs. Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner.
May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dribbles the ball vs. Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner. / Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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On ESPN's NBA Countdown, Adrian Wojnarowski offered the first glimpse into when the Celtics might have Kristaps Porzingis back in the lineup.

"When this series returns to Indiana, I'm told that Porzingis could return as soon as Game 4 on Monday," reported Wojnarowski.

That's 28 days from when the seven-foot-three center suffered a soleus strain in his right calf late in the first half of Boston's Game 4 win over the Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

According to Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer and an injury analyst for SMART and Rotowire, the average time lost to a soleus strain is roughly 17 days, which loosely translates to six games.

In the meantime, the Celtics saw first-hand in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals how difficult it is to contend with the Pacers relentlessly pushing the tempo off makes and misses. 

The series opener also included Andrew Nembard repeatedly targeting Al Horford, drawing him on switches out of the pick-and-roll, adding to the 37-year-old's workload.

In the seven games Porzingis has been inactive for, Horford's averaging 31.5 minutes. He logged 40 in Boston's 133-128 overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The former Florida Gator registered 15 points, six rebounds, and three blocks in the victory.

"Al, being able to come out, knock down shots, make some big plays at the rim, those two guys were great for us tonight," voiced Jaylen Brown of Horford and Jrue Holiday's impact in a game where Brown's heroics kept the Celtics from starting this series down 1-0. 

Still, Boston needs to manage Horford's minutes to prevent him from wearing down as Porzingis is returning. 

And while Luke Kornet's having a productive postseason, as evidenced in Game 1 on Tuesday, Indiana's high-octane offense presents challenges for the seven-foot-two center.

That's not exclusive to Kornet or those playing the pivot, but it factored into him only receiving 13 minutes of floor time in a matchup requiring a fifth frame.

If Xavier Tillman Sr., who's dealing with a personal matter, remains away from the team, it might be time for the Celtics to deploy Jayson Tatum at center.

They did so for 2.2 minutes against the Pacers during a 129-124 win in late January. While the sample size is small, trying out a rarely utilized option against the opponent they wound up facing in the conference finals is noteworthy.

The results were a mixed bag as Tatum shared the floor with Derrick White, Holiday, Brown, and Sam Hauser. That unit generated 140 points per 100 possessions but yielded a defensive rating of 180.

When asked on Wednesday at the Auerbach Center if he's willing to utilize Tatum at center in this series, Joe Mazzulla expressed, "With their ability to play different lineups (and) the way they sub, they sub two, three guys at a time. They're very willing to go away from sub patterns for certain guys. 

"So, you just gotta be wary of going to anything and everything in any particular time. It's something unprecedented, for example, staying open-minded to whatever makes the most sense in the game and being ready to execute. So yeah, I think anything's on the table versus a team like this because of their versatility."

No matter who Indiana deploys at the pivot, it's easy to project a lineup featuring Tatum at the five to be a net positive for the Celtics, even if he's matched up with Myles Turner.

However, having to contend with the six-foot-11, 250-pound center would result in wear and tear that Boston will want to minimize and perhaps avoid entirely. Isaiah Jackson plays with relentless tenacity and brings an infusion of energy that would also tax Tatum. 

That doesn't mean shying from playing the five-time All-Star at center, but if the Celtics turn to that option, it would be wise to limit how long and how much they tap into it.

But with his team shorthanded at the five, a productive shift or two with Tatum at center could help move the Celtics two wins from their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years.

Further Reading

Jrue Holiday Starts Eastern Conference Finals with Best Game as a Celtic

Jaylen Brown's Heroics Propel Celtics to 1-0 Lead in Conference Finals

Aaron Nesmith Left Lasting Impression with Celtics Before Finding a Home with Pacers

Trivializing Celtics' Success in Tatum-Brown Era a Take Not Measured Properly: 'Doing

Past Hardships Brought Out Best in Al Horford in Career Night: 'You Saw His Gift'

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown Still Shaking Off Criticism While Growing as Leaders

Jayson Tatum Breaks Out of Scoring Slump That Never Defined Him: 'Underappreciated'

Kristaps Porzingis Discusses Target Date to Rejoin Celtics' Playoff Run: 'Doing Everything I Can'

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Bobby Krivitsky


Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.