In a season marked by inconsistency and frustration, it’s been significantly difficult to stay encouraged by the Boston Celtics for any length of time. In particular, since the All-Star Break concluded, the Celtics have been mired in a brutal slump, losing five of their six games prior to Tuesday night’s tilt against the Golden State Warriors.
Perhaps unexpectedly, then, the Celtics absolutely dominated the defending champs — in Oakland — to the tune of a 33-point beat down. It was a dominant, wire-to-wire performance the likes of which this year’s team has very seldom seen. Considering the rampant (and justifiable) frustration surrounding the team’s recent performance, it was immensely refreshing to see such a dominant victory. I believe that we might be all the better for spending a much-needed reprieve talking about the positives from the blowout win.
Let’s have some fun with the 2018-19 Boston Celtics, shall we?
Gordon Hayward, getting some payback
Back in January, after the Celtics fell to the Warriors in Boston, 115-111, an unnamed Warriors player told Jeff Goodman that Hayward was “a liability on both ends of the court.”
Well, they might be willing to consider walking that one back now.
Hayward was simply tremendous against Golden State, piling up 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting to join Kevin McHale as one of only three Celtics to ever post three games of 30+ points off the bench in a season. He looked assertive and confident early, putting up seven points in the first quarter, and never looked back from there.
Gordon with the steal and the flush! pic.twitter.com/7uT1e8PwVW— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 6, 2019
This may well be a refrain we’ve repeated too often this season, but of all the Celtics’ roster, Hayward was arguably the most in need of a stand out performance. Hayward was on a roll prior to the All-Star Break, scoring at least 18 points in four of five games in that span of time, but a sprained ankle seemingly derailed his entire momentum after missing the team’s one-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Hayward had scored just five points per game since that time, including a brutal, scoreless 0-for-2 performance against the Wizards to open the month of March. On Tuesday, seeing him light everything on fire to such a dramatic extent, against a team that had criticized him so specifically, was a treat.
The chippy Celtics, not backing down
In the fourth quarter, with the Celtics’ blowout very well established, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins bulldozed Aron Baynes and got himself called for a fairly clear offensive foul. Frustrated at the significant deficit and feeling that his team was losing some of their focus, Cousins decided to jaw at Baynes a bit and, presented with some resistance from Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier, pushed the issue and sparked both a bit of a scrum and, ultimately, a double technical. In a fourth quarter with the game out of reach, this was the kind of obnoxious aggression that would have felt right at home on the Punk Rock Celtics.
On the flip side, however, it was undeniably satisfying to see the younger members of the Celtics stand tough against the much larger Cousins. Tatum was the recipient of the initial shove, but stood his ground, and Rozier wasted no time in putting himself in Cousins’ chest before Baynes himself pushed into the scrum. While this might seem like a trivial moment of tension late in a blowout victory, it seems at least a little encouraging that the Celtics found a bit of backbone in that situation like that, more than a little reminiscent of the aforementioned Punk Rock Celtics of 2016-17. Beyond that, who doesn’t enjoy 6’1” Terry Rozier stepping to a guy who is at least ten inches taller than he is?
Jaylen Brown, making his case
Brad Stevens opted against changing the Celtics’ starting lineup tonight, and while you can argue that may have been a tactical error in the grand scheme of things, he encouragingly stuck to a very similar minutes distribution to what he deployed in the near-comeback against the Houston Rockets on Sunday. Struggling starter Marcus Morris played just 17 minutes on the night, while the surging Brown saw 27.
Brown rewarded that extra time by continuing his recent streak of superb two-way play. He finished third on the team with 18 points, while providing the tenacious and energetic presence on the defensive end that has really elevated him among the Celtics’ rotation players in the past month. Stevens may not agree that the Celtics need a significant change in lineups, but it’s clear that he’s starting to value the energy Brown is imparting on this roster night to night. It’s good to see the youngster thriving off the rewards of that trust.
The 2018-19 Boston Celtics have not been quite what any of us expected them to be. This season has been marked by an incredible amount of pitfalls and frustrations — both on and off the court — that have understandably dampened the excitement of many fans. For those reasons, it was particularly stirring to see the Celtics spend a night looking like every bit the juggernaut we all anticipated at the start of the year.
This is what the fully operational Celtic battle station looks like, and finally getting to witness that proved to be worth the price of admission. We’ve all known this team has talent, but on Tuesday night, they looked more talented than anyone else. Considering all the negativity surrounding what we’ve seen to this point, a little bit of hard earned optimism feels more than welcome.