After one of their more horrendous performances of the season on Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics came back and answered emphatically on Thursday night against MVP candidate Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas was riding a seven-game win streak into their matchup with Boston, but it was the Celtics who got back to their roots in a 124-95 blowout road win at American Airlines Center.
One of the more disappointing facts about Boston’s matchup with OKC was their defense and overall lack of energy against a team without their superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With Dallas being one of the hottest teams in the NBA and Doncic being the offensive magician that he is, the Celtics couldn’t just go through the motions.
“I thought our bench stepped up,” said Joe Mazzulla after the game. “I thought Grant (Williams) and Malcolm (Brogdon) were great. The great thing about Jaylen (Brown) is that he asked to guard Doncic tonight. He got three fouls, kind of took him out of his rhythm in the first half, and I thought he did a great job in the third quarter of not forcing it himself, but playing the right way and finding the right play for him and for his teammates. I thought the team really fed off of that.”
Brown first approached Mazzulla about guarding Doncic for the game during the team’s film session. When asked about how it all went down, Mazzulla said that Brown simply told him, “‘I’m guarding Doncic.’ And I said ‘okay’”.
Most notably in the blowout, Jayson Tatum had only his second career triple double in the win, and notched 29 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists on the night, including 11-of-14 from the free throw line. While he shot only 8-of-22, Tatum found ways to create for his teammates and didn’t hesitate to attack the rim and play through contact.
“He just had a presence about him,” said Mazzulla of Tatum’s performance. “I think when he has a presence and he has an understanding and he has a motor to affect the game in different ways. Whether it’s screening, whether it’s handling, whether it’s offensive rebounds and cutting, getting to the free throw line. So, when he plays with that type of presence, he can affect the game in different ways.”
In a lot of ways, the win against the Mavericks on Thursday felt a lot more like the Celtics from earlier this season and to a degree, last year’s defensive juggernaut capable of holding their opponents under 100 points on any given night. It was an important “get right” game, especially with the Nets and Bucks hot on the Celtics’ heels for first seed in the conference. The team’s approach against Dallas felt much more balanced on both sides of the floor.
“That’s when we’re at our best,” said Mazzulla. “We have that balanced attack, and our bench guys are playing with confidence, with poise, with aggression on both ends of the floor. So, it goes back to we’ve seen the best version of ourselves, we’ve done it for a good amount of time. Can we continue to do it over and over and over again?”
"You got to have a different mindset here because this has to be who we are for the rest of the season."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) January 6, 2023
Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla to his team during a timeout pic.twitter.com/LcF7xOhC7Q
Consistency has become the biggest factor in Boston’s success, especially concerning the offense. The Celtics have now had a handful of games where the team has shot poorly from three and managed to still pull out the win, and those wins are mainly because of their defense. Being able to lean on your defense when the shots aren’t falling was crucial to the team’s success last year, and it’s an ability they’ve slowly begun to recover this season.
“I knew we were going to (respond),” said Mazzulla. “But like I said, it’s a matter of can we do it over and over and over again? Our guys have a level of maturity about them. It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to have bad games or stinkers, but we have a level of maturity and our guys really want to win. So, I trust that in them, I knew we were going to do it tonight, and I’m going to work to make sure that we try over and over again to do that.”
Boston will wrap up their road trip tonight with a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs.