The Boston Celtics coasted to a rare blowout on Tuesday evening, routing the lowly Sacramento Kings to the tune of a 128-75 massacre at home in the TD Garden. The 53-point win went down as the second-biggest win in franchise history (behind only a memorable 56-point victory over the Chicago Bulls in 2018), and the dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the way with 66 points in just three quarters of play.
But while Boston’s star duo stole the show with their prodigious scoring, perhaps the true highlight of the evening was the degree to which the Celtics’ offense moved the ball. The Celtics piled up 32 assists on the night, and kept the ball absolutely flying around the court. It was one of their most comfortable offensive performances of the season, and unsurprisingly, everything seemed to break their way as a result.
And when I say everything broke their way, I mean everything — even this last-second rainbow heave from Tatum to Richardson that put the Celtics up 63-30 at the halftime break.
Of those 32 assists, more than half (17) came from a trio of usual suspects: Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III. The three are, in some order, the three best passers on the team at present, and the Boston offense looks undeniably more juiced when all three are on the court and guiding the flow of the offense.
We’ll start with Tatum, who is finally starting to see some tangible results from the improved passing he’s demonstrated all season long. The win over the Kings was his third straight performance with at least six assists, and continued a January that has been his most productive month of the season from a passing perspective with 4.4 assists per game.
Tatum’s greatest weapon is the amount of pressure his scoring prowess puts on opposing defenses, and he’s taken incredible strides in leveraging that pressure to create open looks for his teammates. When he’s sharing the floor with actual shooters (unfortunately not a guarantee on this roster), double teaming him is just not an option. He’s more than happy to kick to an open Grant Williams if you let him.
Motivated in part by his recent shooting slump, Tatum has also been attacking the rim with increased aggression in recent games, and that’s opened up drive-and-kick opportunities. There’s no correct answer when it comes to guarding the Celtics when Tatum is rumbling downhill with a red-hot Brown waiting in the corner.
It’s also worth mentioning just how audacious Tatum has become as a passer. He has been firing off some high-difficulty passes and hitting the target more often than not. If Horford gets this three to fall, it’s one of the best plays of a highlight-ridden evening at TD Garden.
Meanwhile, no big deal, but Marcus Smart has been a +36 in each of his games since returning from injury — and while scoring zero points against the Kings, to boot. His return to the lineup has been a stabilizing force for the Boston offense, in no small part thanks to his quick decision-making and chemistry with the Jays — especially Brown, who he linked up with twice in the first quarter alone.
A recurring motif in discussions about the construction of this roster has been the need for a playmaking point guard to help create better looks for the team’s two stars. But while it’s true that you can never really have enough of those kinds of players, the emphasis that role receives has overshadowed just how good Smart himself has been when fully given the reigns at the position.
Since his return, the Celtics have shelved their troubled Smart-Schröder double-guard lineups, and the result has been some inspired ball movement. Free from the complications of sharing a lineup with a ball-dominant scoring guard, Smart’s ability to quickly read the defense and move the ball into weaknesses has been able to shine. His highlight reel against the Kings was a masterclass of simple, patient and timely reads, controlling the tempo and finding the open man.
Finally, there’s Williams, who was at his stat-sheet-stuffing best on Tuesday night with a ludicrous 13-17-4-3-2 line and a team-high +42 in just 27 minutes of play time. Beyond his spectacular finishing ability at the rim, Williams’ best offensive weapon is his quick-twitch passing ability. It’s possible he doesn’t get quite enough credit for how cerebral he is offensively, with phenomenal awareness of where his teammates are on the court and the instincts to sling the ball their way off a rebound or in the pick-and-roll. He’s quietly become one of the best passers at the center position in the NBA.
Back-to-back blowout victories are a good way to restore some positivity to an otherwise difficult season. The Celtics are back over .500 once again, and if they maintain good habits from the stellar ball movement they showcased against Sacramento, it’s entirely possible they could finally string together the winning streak that has eluded them all season long.