For the past few years, the Boston Celtics have fallen victim to trap games time and time again. Games on the schedule that presented as easy wins have been treated as such, and in turn, the Celtics have failed to meet expectations.
Last season, with the one-seed in the East effectively on the line, Boston got blown out by Kristaps Porzingis and the Washington Wizards. And outside of the obvious irony of having Porzingis on their side this time around, their win over Washington on Monday night was a sign of growth.
Boston gutted out wins in each of their first two games against opponents who both made it to the second round of the playoffs or further last year. In their third game, they matched up with a Wizards team projected to be fighting for the number-one pick in the 2024 draft.
But rather than stooping to that level, Boston blew the doors off Washington.
“Some could say we’ve learned from our mistakes last season,” Jayson Tatum said after the contest.
The Celtics jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, completing a 126-107 win - a margin of victory that doesn’t truly reflect how dominant they were. At one point, they were up by 37.
All of Boston’s starters boasted +/- totals of at least +27, and the only reason the game dipped below a 20-point lead was because the bench unit struggled in garbage time.
When the starters were in the game, the Wizards were dwarfed (both figuratively and literally) by the sheer talent of the Celtics.
“I think that will be the difference: If we can be able to have that mentality for longer durations during the season and focus level for longer durations,” said Jaylen Brown.
Daniel Gafford was out for Washington, so Kyle Kuzma got the nod at the center spot to begin the game. Boston wasted no time taking advantage of their size advantage, putting Porzingis to work in the post.
From there, Jaylen Brown (36 points with eight made threes) cooked Washington’s hoard of subpar perimeter defenders, while Derrick White (eight assists) picked them apart with an impressive array of passes. Jayson Tatum got his licks in, too, ending the night with 33 points of his own, working every area of the court.
The Celtics may have the best top-6 in the NBA, but they’ve had talent in years past. And oftentimes, that’s been the issue.
“It’s tough being talented because it invites laziness, it invites complacency. But that’s going to be our enemy this season,” Brown said. “It’s going to be us vs. us. And our leaders on the team, we’ve gotta make sure that we emphasize from the top to the bottom that we’ve gotta run through the finish line.”
Ugly losses to teams like the Wizards, Orlando Magic, and Houston Rockets highlighted a slew of brutal defeats that partially defined the image of last year’s Celtics squad.
Now, with a new-look roster and a gut-wrenching loss in the Eastern Conference Finals in the rearview mirror, the Celtics are committing to breaking the bad habits that have long inhibited them.
“We got a totally different team,” Tatum said. “I’ve been on record saying we’ve been extremely close these last two years, so we’re just doing everything we can to get over that hump. And we’re on a good track.”