Against the best team in the Western Conference, the Boston Celtics looked levels above the competition as they blew out the Phoenix Suns 125-98 at the Footprint Center. It was a wire-to-wire win for Boston, and they did so without Robert Williams or Al Horford in the fold. The Celtics led by as much as 45 points, and they did so by playing one of their most complete games of the year on both ends of the floor.
The Celtics now have a record of 21-5, by and large the best record in the league, and are performing at a historic pace. Despite this, the team is staying grounded, from top to bottom.
“I think everybody in the locker room understands what we’re trying to do,” said Jayson Tatum, “We realized that we’ve got the best record — we’re 21-5. With that comes the decision every night to play the right way, as hard as we can on both ends.”
Playing the right way is what Ime Udoka was a major point of emphasis as coach, and under Joe Mazzulla, that message still holds true. And when you play the right way, you win games, and winning (unsurprisingly) fixes a lot of things.
“We’re having a lot of fun, but I think the goal is still the same,” said Tatum. “Get back to the Finals and get over that hump. While we’re having fun and happy the way we plan, nobody in that locker room is celebrating, satisfied where we’re at. None of this means anything if we don’t hang a banner. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Experience over the years has gotten this Celtics team to this point, ripe with potential and mature enough to realize the opportunity that comes with that. Last season was just a glimpse of what the future may hold, but it also taught them how delicate and rare those kind of chances are.
“I say it all of the time, ‘most of the guys on our team know what it feels like to get to the top and lose,’” said Tatum, “I can’t stress it enough how tough that was and how bad that hurt. Everybody knows what the ultimate goal is, and we got about eight guys that could probably start on any team. D-White, Brogdon, those guys sacrificing coming off the bench. I think that just speaks volumes to the commitment that we have to trying to be the best, to try to play to our standard every night. That’s what we talk about before the game, halftime, win by any cost, by any means. Figure it out, win the game and build great habits on the way.”
Against the Suns, Boston had a strong defensive showing, tallying 14 steals, three blocks, and holding the Suns to 25% from deep on 8-of-32 shooting. “
I think right now, we’re getting back to ourselves,” said Jaylen Brown of the Celtics defense. “Locking back on the defensive side of things, trying to keep teams to 100 or so. Not let people get comfortable, and that’s what we hung out hat on last year, this year we got up to a slow start on defense, but our offense kind of carried us. Now... I think we’re playing a little bit balanced right now.”
First in offensive rating (119.9) and 9th in defensive rating (110.8) without defensive centerpiece Robert Williams was not only unexpected, but unheard of. “We’re taking it one game at a time,” said Brown. “It’s highs and lows in the season. We know that right now, we’re on the high point so we’re gonna keeping riding that way, but we know there’s going to be adversity and low points in our season as well.”
We’ve got to keep that in perspective,” said Brown of the team’s high-level performance so far. “We can’t take our foot off the gas or take stuff like this for granted, and part of being a leader is just being able to stay even keeled and knowing that going into the next game. Because what happened to them (the Suns) easily could happen to us or anybody else.”
Boston will have another challenge awaiting them Saturday night, when they have a Finals rematch with the Golden State Warriors, 8:30 pm EST tipoff.