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The Celtics are starting to prove they can win in a variety of ways

Scoring 120-plus is fun and all, but it’s not sustainable in the playoffs. These tight games will help them long term.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors
Jayson Tatum defends Pascal Siakam in the second half Monday.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

At various points this season, the Celtics have legitimately looked like one of the best offensive teams in NBA history.

The scoring totals are, quite frankly, a little silly…126, 123, 133, 128, 131, 126, 125, 130, 140, 134. That’s a lot of points. For context, the highest-scoring team of all-time, the 1982 Denver Nuggets, poured in 126.5 a night (Side note 1: their opponents averaged 126! Side note 2: They shot 26.8 percent from 3; oh, how times have changed).

In October, the Celtics averaged 116.7 points while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 39.9 percent from 3. In November, those numbers rose to a preposterous 123.8, 50.5 percent and 41.1 percent.

So far in December, through three games, they’ve dipped to 111.7, 46.1 and 36.1. Cancel the parade. Nope, on second thought, don’t cancel it. In fact, this might actually be a blessing in disguise for the Celtics.

For starters, they were never going to breeze through the entire regular season shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the floor. A little reality check isn’t the worst thing ever. Even if they were to somehow keep those numbers up, though, shooting at such a scorching clip the whole way isn’t necessarily ideal.

No matter how lethal a team is offensively in the regular season, those numbers will always decrease in the postseason. The past few games have given the Celtics a glimpse into what life could be like if their shots aren’t falling at a record-setting pace.

Against the Nets on Sunday, Boston shot 43.2 percent from the field and found a way to prevail, 103-92.

The defensive showing against Brooklyn was arguably their best of the year, as they held Kyrie Irving to 7-for-21 shooting and allowed a season-low in points. It wasn’t a particularly aesthetically pleasing game from the Celtics’ standpoint, either. Boston scored just 13 points in the third quarter and looked out of sorts at times.

But when the Celtics really needed a stop, they played the collective team defense that’s been sorely missing for chunks of the season – the type of defense fans grew accustomed to during last year’s run to the Finals.

For whatever reason, this year’s group hasn’t been as dynamite defensively as last year’s, but there’s still plenty of time to change that. It was also noteworthy that the win over the Nets came without their best defensive player in Marcus Smart (and of course, Robert Williams who is expected back soon). The Celtics rose to the challenge and found a way to win.

The next night on a back-to-back no less in a tough environment, they muscled their way to a 116-110 win over the Raptors. Sure, 116 is still a decent number of points, but they had to work hard to get there. Shots didn’t come as easily, but they stayed patient and picked their spots.

This time, after the Raptors caught fire in the second quarter, the Celtics responded with a 35-18 third and outlasted Toronto in the fourth. Boston shot 36.1 percent from 3, but it was able to keep the turnover number down to 11 (including just two in the second half) and rack up 27 assists.

Even as the Raptors – one of the NBA’s most pesky teams – pressured them, the Celtics stayed poised more often than not. In the fourth quarter, without Malcolm Brogdon and Al Horford to lean on as stabilizers, they turned to the usual suspects, plus Blake Griffin, to get the job done.

Griffin’s dirty work was crucial. He consistently put himself in the right place at the right time, and his putback in the final minute helped ice the game. The Celtics seemed to feed off his energy when the intensity magnified. For folks who like intense, tightly contested battles, these past two games have been a refreshing change of pace.

When the Celtics won 14 of 15 games, they outscored their opponents by 11.8 points per game. One 35-point win over the Hornets felt like the varsity playing the junior varsity.

These wins will benefit them long term. Their opponent ratcheted up the intensity, and the Celtics rose to the occasion.

With the Suns, Warriors, Clippers and Lakers on the horizon, this stretch will continue to toughen them up. If they can keep winning in a variety of ways, and showing their mental toughness, that bodes well for their chances in the playoffs.

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