The theme of the night for the Celtics was fixing their transition defense, the first test came against the Kings, the best transition offense in the league. The results? Well, good enough. Boston fell down by as much as 17 and there were times when it looked like nobody on the team would hit a three-pointer. But at the end of the day, the Celtics had an engaged Kyrie Irving, and when he’s present, this team is rarely beaten.
Celtics first half was uncharacteristic for very distinct ways. For one, they started the game slow which mostly hadn’t been a problem on their road trip and they couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives, going 1/12 in the half. The Kings used that to propel a lead that at one point got up to 17. Boston’s defense was downright putrid and it was very clear the focus wasn’t all the way there, Sacramento feasted with off-ball cuts and forcing favorable switches early. After a rare quick timeout, the Celtics were able to steady the ship before things got wildly out of hand.
Kyrie's hustle gives Tatum the opportunity to go to work pic.twitter.com/mn5r9XuHgJ— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 14, 2019
The second uncharacteristic difference was that when their shots didn’t fall, the team actually attacked the paint. It started with Irving who abused Buddy Hield on his way to 19 first half points and the rest of the team followed suit with 36 paint points in the first half.
When the smoke cleared, the team was able to cut their deficit all the way to 6 going into halftime without much of their shots going down in the first half.
The Celtics kicked off the second half by going on a 9-2 run to briefly take the lead, then promptly giving up a 16-2 run and went back down by as many as 13. The team for a stretch looked like they just didn’t have the legs. Horford got subbed out after 4 minutes and at one point the team was down to 3/17 shooting from three. To their credit, they never stopped fighting. It started with Irving who clawed for every point and kept the energy high on the defensive end even if the results didn’t always follow. The team was able to get it back to 10, then went on an epic 13-2 run that included three straight three’s from Jaylen Brown (who had 22 points off the bench) to retake the lead.
The final frame was a back and forth affair. The Celtics pushed their lead up to 109-103 with about 6 minutes left in the game. Then, Kyrie started taking over down the stretch with some big buckets to help the Celtics push the lead to double digits.
What would Shaq say?— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 15, 2019
"BBQ Chicken" pic.twitter.com/8YP5BdCi2a
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Celtics got punched first and instead of letting it compound and get out of hand, they stayed together, played tough, and kept up the good vibes from their road trip.