Why Joe Mazzulla expects Xavier Tillman to bring toughness and versatility to Celtics defense

The Boston Celtics swung a trade this week, working a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies to bring big man Xavier Tillman to the Hub. It’s a trade that should raise the defensive ceiling for Boston’s bench as the postseason approaches.

Tillman is a 25-year-old, 6-foot-8 forward who has some real playoff experience. His scoring this year hasn’t impressed, but defensively he has excelled. After Boston’s win over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla was asked about Tillman and what he can offer to the club.

“He brings toughness,” Mazzulla said. “He can pass, he’s skilled, high IQ, and obviously a good defender who can play the pick and roll. I’m excited to have him.”

Mazzulla hinted that Boston has had an eye on Tillman for some time, and was attracted to his defensive flexibility.

“Obviously, we paid a lot of attention to him just because of the team that he played for and the coach that he had,” Mazzulla said. “He has really good numbers against some of the top centers in the league. His pick and roll defense and rim protection are pretty good, so that gives us versatility at that position.”

Tillman has averaged 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.2 steals per game this season with the Grizzlies in 20.6 minutes of action. He won’t be asked to score much for this Celtics team, and instead will be something of a defensive specialist.

Mazzulla stressed that there will be high expectations for Tillman, if only because he values defensive adaptability.

“It’s one of the most important positions in our defense,” Mazzulla said. “Our bigs and their ability to be versatile. He’s shown that ability, and we just have to continue to coach him on that and get him up to speed in our system.”

The NBA’s trade deadline is Thursday, February 8. As such, Boston could make another move or two in the next few hours. Until then, welcome to Boston, Xavier Tillman.

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Story originally appeared on Celtics Wire