When a post-holiday malaise (two wins in eight tries) dropped the Celtics to sixth in the Eastern Conference, many questioned the merits of their early success as well as their prospects for future achievement. Most everybody thought they’d lose to the Lakers Monday night; instead, the Green submitted a statement victory - the first of three consecutive wins. Brad Stevens’ team was the best version of itself in a stunning blowout as we collectively heard the timer ding on a recipe for success.
Gone were the questions of how Gordon Hayward fits alongside Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. Absent were concerns about Boston’s lack of size. After falling in an 8-0 hole early, the Celtics responded with relentless defense and an attacking offensive mentality that produced 29 free throw attempts - their second most in a contest this season.
They buttressed that effort with execution from deep: 16 three-pointers in 34 attempts. Walker and Brown both pierced the 20-point mark, and Tatum showed he was built for the moment with an impactful 27 points.
Enes Kanter’s first half exploits were a major factor in deflating the Laker juggernaut into a postgame excuse factory where we were beaten over the head with tales of the fragile Anthony Davis' minutes restriction and LeBron James' struggles as a working parent.
But it was the assertive exploits of Boston’s stars, clicking in concert, that showed fans what was truly possible.
We're There When You Need Us
Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies saw the Green without Brown, while Walker shot 2-for-9. The C’s still prevailed by 24.
Friday saw the Celtics playing without Brown, Tatum, and Kanter and down 16 in the first half. While Walker and Hayward did a lot to bail them out, the bench was effective enough to keep the defense honest and allow the household names to shine. Grant Williams (who got a rare start), Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green all topped the 20 minute mark, and Brad Wanamaker chipped in eight points in 16 minutes of work. Vincent Poirier even got some run.
While it's likely Danny Ainge will make some kind of move to improve Boston's depth, it was nice to see some of the younger and less experienced Celtics make a statement.
With Kanter sidelined Friday, the big man missed an opportunity to build on his impressive play of late. Daniel Theis and Grant Williams anchored the mighty mites against Orlando's beefy front line. Theis tied a season high with 16 points in 32 minutes, while Williams went an impressive 3-for-4 from downtown and logged two rejections.
Meanwhile, the Celtics crashed the glass as a team to even the rebounding odds and scored more points in the paint than their counterparts.
This space routinely compares the statistics of Boston's more prominent big men. With Robert Williams out, the Theis/Kanter timeshare is giving the Celtics what they need most nights. At this point, Ainge either thinks that's an appropriate ingredient for the recipe or feels the need to make a substitution via trade. One potential target, Willie Cauley-Stein, just went to the Mavericks. We will find out in the next two weeks.
All That Glitters is Gold
Congratulations to Kemba Walker, who outlasted Kyrie Irving to be selected as an All-Star starter for the second consecutive season and second time in his career. It's the fourth All-Star selection for the veteran guard, who has been everything Celtics fans hoped for after last season ended on a sour note and two of the participants in last year's game left town.
Coming Up Next
After playing six out of seven at TD Garden, the Green are working through a trio of road games before they return home next Thursday to host the Warriors in what the schedule makers probably thought would be a competitive contest. After all, the C’s have had plenty of entertaining matchups with Golden State over the last several years, splitting four of eight contests headed into this season.
I’m sure we all remember the C’s ending Golden State’s 41-game home court winning streak back in 2016. But this could stand to be the least competitive of their upcoming games.
In the meantime, the C’s head to the Big Easy to face a Pelicans team they blew out by 35 a couple weeks ago in Jayson Tatum’s career night. Only this time, they'll have Zion Williamson.
Tuesday is another measuring stick game. Not only do the Heat have what the Celtics want, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but they also held the best home record in the NBA prior to Friday night's loss against the Clippers. Boston grabbed a win over Miami in the first meeting between the teams this year, at TD Garden.