No playing around with this recap. Boston certainly didn’t play around, not for a second. They came out and dominated from the start, turning a Western Conference foe into pulp. The already-lowly Sacramento Kings were the Celtics’ victim tonight; Boston delivered a 128-75 beating, and there’s simply no use in dancing around it. That’s what happened, those are the facts, and yes, that feels so good to write with absolute certainty behind it.
A few things happened tonight that either felt or were new to this endlessly frustrating team: in the first quarter, Jaylen Brown passed Larry Bird for sixth on the franchise’s all-time three-pointers made list (he hit no. 650 within two minutes and no. 651 seconds later; Larry Legend had 649). Jayson Tatum followed up Sunday’s 51-point performance by looking like he might just do it again tonight (he’d settle for 36). A member of the 2021-22 Boston Celtics smiled.
Are we sure this is real? Is anyone out there? Adam Silver, what sick game are you playing at?
Celtics pull out a narrow victory, my post— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) January 26, 2022
Overall, perhaps the newest feeling brought on by Boston was their instant energy, which was clearly more tangible than Sacramento’s from the moment I clicked “play” on my League Pass app. The Celtics crowded the paint to secure easy rebounds while the Kings played with all five men moseying around the perimeter as if they intended on sprinting back on defense. But then... they didn’t get back. Boston roared to a quick 14-4 advantage not just because it was at full strength, but because the Celtics seemed much more intent on winning the game from the jump. Sacramento — playing without De’Aaron Fox, but at full strength otherwise — never bothered to get off the bus. The home squad, meanwhile, rolled over their visiting opponents from the jump.
Sure, so it wasn’t exactly from the jump: Robert Williams III interrupted a Mike Gorman stat-read with a foul before the initial tip-off could reach its apex. But after that awkward miscue, the Celtics revved their engine to the tune of a 38-13 run to start the opening frame. Well, actually, that was the score at the end of the quarter; there was a 25-2 run in there, if we want to get real specific. There’s no better way to put it: the Celtics looked like a different team. They were in tune on defense. They felt like they were active in transition, and they had just four fastbreak points. They crashed the boards with a purpose, pulling down 22, a plus-nine advantage over the Kings. Heck, they played the whole game with a purpose, like a team sick of hearing from critics and doubters alone. This was a team that looked like it was having fun.
Tatum closed the opening quarter with 11 points and four assists; Brown had 15 points of his own, which paired nicely with five boards; Rob had four points, seven boards, two blocks, and a steal. Brian Scalabrine wondered aloud, “I don’t know if they had a meeting, or what, but man, their energy.” Frankly, who cares? As long as they keep it up.
Time for a major qualifier: these are the Sacramento Kings, a team with “middling at best” aspirations and a peak that often reaches that of a really, really talented junior varsity team. When missing their best player — who also happens to be the one fans want to trade the most; that sure sounds familiar — that potential dips even more. They entered tonight 18-30 on a four-game losing streak and within six minutes, that streak reached four and that record fell even further below .500. (Celtics fans grovel at every turn about how poor the team plays, but take that as a silver lining.)
But their general ineptitude wasn’t the only reason Boston’s guns blazed for 48 minutes — save an extremely brief second-quarter lull that, thankfully, Sacramento matched, given the fact that their piteous performance extended over the course of all four quarters. Boston’s ball movement was more advanced than it’s been in weeks; they churned out 32, just two below the season-high. Players, too, moved with a fluidity that tends to be achieved by the league’s elite systems.
Celtics’ head coach Ime Udoka has been the recipient of his fair share of criticism quite specifically because of his questionable systems and rotations, but even he looked to be taking the hint tonight. On more than one occasion, he sent in three bigs (the Williams duo of Rob and Grant, plus Al Horford), which overwhelmed the Kings when he attempted to penetrate the lane, and didn’t allow Marcus Smart and Dennis Schröder to share minutes — which has maintained a plus-6.2 differential this season on average, but has hardly been as difference-making as that stat indicates. The lone lineup featuring both players to play 200-plus minutes this season has a minus-15.7 differential, creates spacing issues, and simply doesn’t move the ball at the rate that is necessary to put up a winning effort.
Tonight’s effort, full stop, was a winning win. Few criticisms; applause aplenty. If this were the norm, the NBA would be a puppet, and Brad Stevens, its master.
In the third, it became 91-50, then ended 97-55. In the fourth quarter, the green team on the scoreboard had a three-digit number next to it, while the purple one still had half as many points. At one point, the Celtics led by 50. They couldn’t miss. Really, the final score doesn’t matter, given that it was decided within seconds. What matters, you ask? That Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith enjoyed extended playtime. That the bench was grinning from ear to ear.
THIS is what matters.
The Celtics are back at it on Friday in Atlanta against the Hawks. At this rate, they’ll win that one by 90.