In recent losses to the Bulls and Cavaliers, the Celtics sizzled in stretches in the first half but watched sizable leads disappear.
Against the Wizards on Sunday, in a convincing 112-94 win, they built a commanding cushion and never relented. Not every offensive possession was pristine, and they had some lulls along the way, but the defensive intensity never wavered.
The Celtics (4-2) resembled the defensive juggernaut they were the bulk of last season.
“We wanted to come out here tonight and make a big emphasis on that end,” Marcus Smart said.
After allowing 120 and 132 points the last two games, this was a welcome sight for a team that prides itself on that end of the floor. Washington (3-3) shot just 38.8 percent from the floor and 21.9 percent from 3-point range.
Jaylen Brown (24), Jayson Tatum (23) and Malcolm Brogdon (23) led the way offensively, as the Celtics finished 44.7 percent from 3 themselves on 47 attempts.
“I love 3-pointers,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I like math.”
Brown erupted for 16 points in the first quarter alone, outscoring the Wizards himself as the Celtics built a commanding 34-15 edge. Tatum added 11, hitting two 3-pointers in the first minute to set the tone early.
No Celtic other than Brown and Tatum attempted a shot until Smart did so with 4:06 left in the quarter. The Wizards knew what was coming, but they couldn’t stop it.
First Celtics shot taken by someone other than Tatum or Brown?— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) October 30, 2022
Marcus Smart with 4:06 left in the first.
Tatum and Brown took the first 12 shots, and scored the first 23 Boston points. https://t.co/2VnKtRph7B
Smart was his usual pesky self on defense, Luke Kornet gave the Celtics quality minutes and Grant Williams looked sharp after missing a game due to a suspension.
The Celtics were firmly in front at that point, but much like they did against the Bulls, they reverted to some bad habits in the second quarter. The Wizards outscored them, 32-24, slicing Boston’s halftime lead to 58-47.
After a sizzling start, the Celtics played sloppy basketball in the second period and let Washington hang around. They did, however, hold Bradley Beal scoreless in the half. They also limited a Wizards team that entered with the NBA’s best field-goal percentage to just 36.5 percent shooting.
“We did a great job tonight of, when the shots weren’t falling, continuing to compete defensively,” Mazzulla said. “I thought that was great.”
MARCUS STEAL ⏩ TATUM TRIPLE! pic.twitter.com/igueVpy3FU— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 30, 2022
Both sides started the second half cold, but Al Horford and Derrick White drained back-to-back 3’s to extend the Celtics’ lead to 72-56 with 5:49 left in the third.
Beal finally scored his first points with 2:29 left in the quarter, but Brogdon and Sam Hauser helped the Celtics push the margin to 87-68 heading to the fourth. Brogdon’s methodical, steady play, in particular, was crucial throughout the night. He gave the Celtics exactly what they needed every time he entered the game.
“I’m trying to figure out what the flow is, what we’re missing and what I can provide,” Brogdon said.
The lead never ballooned and it never shrunk, as the Celtics comfortably took care of business.
This win didn’t carry quite as much weight as season-opening triumphs over the 76ers and Heat, but it was significant because of what preceded it. The Celtics hope the defensive habits they built Sunday will help in rematches against the Cavaliers and Bulls this week.
“Our guys are always going to play hard,” Mazzulla said. “We just have to continue to execute and be detailed.”