BOSTON — Celtics fans saw a rare sight inside TD Garden on Sunday afternoon, Jayson Tatum sitting court-side at the end of the Celtics bench in a beige sweatshirt, hat and dark green pants. Boston took on a cotton candy-themed Wizards team in their own black-and-green look while their superstar rested with an ankle ailment he suffered early last week.
Jaylen Brown took over in the lead scoring role and the Celtics nonetheless powered to another 10-point lead, their 17th this season, building a 17-point advantage at halftime before winning 130-121. Brown scored 36 points, but played ahead of the defense and close to the rim as Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White took on a larger share of ball-handling.
“It’s important that we just put our guys in the best position to execute on the offensive end,” Joe Mazzulla said pre-game. “Jaylen’s done a great job making reads in the pick-and-roll, had two assists in the fourth quarter last night in the pick-and-roll, Smart’s done a great job, Malcolm, it’s just a matter of continuing to execute.”
Brown started with a pair of makes in the lane as the Celtics and Wizards worked back from down 8-2 to take a brief lead midway through the first. Grant Williams and Marcus Smart erased it with baskets at the rim after Smart, switching often onto Kristaps Porzingis in the post caught a few bumps and drew an offensive foul after the crowd let out an — ooohhhh!
Mazzulla kept his bench rotation intact with Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet and Brogdon checking in after their turnaround performance to beat the Kings on Friday. Kornet laid in a put back to put Boston ahead 22-19, forced a Jordan Goodwin miss with his patent pending short contest, finished in the pick-and-roll, then dished an assist to Grant early in the second quarter. His miss from the right corner, however, ended his 16-for-16 shooting streak.
Payton Pritchard checked in an immediately drilled a three and Hauser watched his own try from the left corner bounce high off the rim and in. Kornet’s free throws gave the Celtics their first double-digit lead of the night, and Smart fed Brown for a low-post look as the Wizards started 5-for-19 from deep. Another Kornet contest, this time on Anthony Gill, worked again and Smart seemed to try his own version of it running to the left corner later.
Brown and the Celtics worked in-between too, shooting 14-for-22 from mid range through three quarters and 10-for-11 at the rim playing up-tempo. All five Celtics touched the ball along the perimeter on a second quarter breakout by White, setting him up after his initial drive through four extra passes for an open three in the corner that White missed.
Boston didn’t miss often on Sunday night though, hitting 15 of their first 30 tries from three to improve to 40% this season. Brown hit a tough leaner to start the second half near the paint, then finished directly at the rim through Deni Avdija — screaming and-one. Brown scored 30 points in 30 minutes on 11-of-19 shooting with only two turnovers. His 6-for-10 shooting after halftime pushed the Celtics ahead by 20 within minutes, and they never looked back.
Smart hooked in a high layup and dribbled around the world to free up Horford in the paint, while Bradley Beal’s 11-for-16 shooting inside the arc ended up being all the Wizards could muster on par with Boston’s dominance. Beal didn’t hit a shot from deep in three tries.
Justin Jackson prepared to check in as the final seconds ticked away in the third, and after Hauser hit a runner, three free throws and a triple from Pritchard, the Celtics looked up and saw themselves with as many points as they scored in four quarters last month over Washington’s 10th-ranked defense. They led 113-88, ready to steal their starters some extra rest ahead of Monday’s home game against Charlotte.
That didn’t work out as planned as Washington cut a 26-point deficit in half and pulled to within 11 with under three minutes to play on Beal and Porzingis baskets. Brown, Horford, Smart and Grant returned to the game midway through the quarter, and Brown stemmed the tide with a layup through Beal for a three-point play.
The Celtics have now won 11 of their last 12 games as they prepare for the Hornets and a Heat mini series to close out the home stand.