In her pregame interview with Celtics Head Coach Joe Mazzulla, Abby Chin asked how concerned he was about the lack of bench scoring thus far this season?
Whatever Mazzulla’s thoughts were about bench scoring, it was the starting lineup that came out firing. After conceding a layup to Benedict Mathurin, the Celtics starters cashed three consecutive triples, with Derrick White, Jayson Tatum, and Jrue Holiday all getting in on the party. That party was punctuated by a pair of slams from Porzingis and Brown, capping a 14-0 run before the Pacers finally remembered how to put the ball in the basket. The Celtics took a quick and clean 20-10 lead.
The Tyrese Haliburton-less Pacers weren’t about to take it lying down, especially equipped Bruce Brown, a Boston Native frequent Celtics-killer who tends to show out for his Dorchester family when he comes to town. Nor was Aaron Nesmith, who recently received a nice extension from the Pacers after he was traded away from Boston in the Malcolm Brogdon deal last summer. Nesmith converted an and-one early on, ferociously pounding his chest as he began his revenge game.
And while the Pacers did fall into an offensive rhythm eventually, the Celtics onslaught proved too powerful to fight off, eventually snowballing into an unmitigated defensive disaster thaTatum and White got criminally hot towards the end of the first quarter, and the Celtics led 44-27 after one period, shooting a blistering 76 percent from the field.
The C’s came out in the second running a soft press on defense, a method they’ve been using regularly to keep up pressure on reeling opponents but also to keep their own heads in the game. It’s early in the season, but this team seems determined to destroy people night in a night out.
Nothing jumps off the TV quite like the Celtics going full Harlem Globetrotters-mode on teams like the Wizards and Pacers, who do not approach the talent requirement to guard all five Celtics starters at once. Whether it’s Tatum eviscerating T.J. McConnell or Porzingis dropping pocket passes to Brown, the Washington Genera… I mean the Indiana Pacers looked unable to hang for much of the night.
Defensively, the Celtics continue to be anchored by White and Holiday in the backcourt, a pairing that is starting to feel unfair to other teams. The two set an infectious tone early on, with White executing one of the sickest blocks ever on a Mathurin reverse-dunk attempt. The officials had called an offensive foul already, so it technically didn’t count. But we’re going to ignore that for the sake of fun.
But what of those bench minutes that Abby Chin was so worried about? Not counting Al Horford—who is ordained as the sixth starter by the Celtics promotional towels—the bench boys accumulated a reasonable nine out of the team’s 75 points as the Celtics extended their lead to 21 by halftime. Oshae Brissett brought solid energy, and Hauser hit some spot-up shots. That was against actual, starting-caliber opponents, but garbage time provided some pretty electric Bus One action.
With an entire quarter to work with, the bench put up an epic 63 points overall, with Hauser going unconscious from downtown and Dalano Banton and Lamar Stevens taking dudes off the dribble like you’ve never seen. It was glorious.
Apart from bloviating about how great the team is, discussions of bench performance has dominated Celtics discourse in recent days. No game is a freebie, but the Wizards and Pacers without Halliburton aren’t a team the Celtics should have to sweat over. Even so, recently-extended Payton Pritchard scored a notable zero points despite playing 25 minutes against the Wizards on Monday, which led to the very reasonable question of if the Celtics’ bench can take some heat off the starters in games against weaker teams.
This does, however, forget that rotation pieces are both expected and ordered to defer to the team’s primary scoring options. In the Celtics’ case, they have an almost unprecedented number of great-or-elite scorers Save for garbage time, guys like Pritchard, Hauser, and Brissett simply don’t have a reason to be chucking shots most of the time. The only question is playing the starters too many minutes, but if the Celtics can beat every team in three quarters, that shouldn’t be a problem.
To pick up right where they left off to start the second half, the Celtics picked up the Pacers and pile-drove them into the parquet. Through nagging defense and with utterly overwhelming offense, the lead ballooned to 38 by the end of three. It felt like literally everything was going in, and by the time the starters had sat down for the night the C’s were shooting a preposterous 56 percent from deep and 55 percent from the field.
The Celtics starters continue to be by far the best unit in basketball, combining for a ludicrous 92 points in under three quarters. When it was all said and done, the Celtics had scored 150+ for the first time since 1992 and beat the Pacers by a hilarious 51 points, scoring the 3rd most points in Celtics history. Even better was how all five played fewer than 30 minutes, which is the dream on nights like this. Having to ask at what point in the 3rd quarter Mazzulla should pull the starters is a pretty amazing problem to have, and the Celtics will look to keep the pain train rolling against the Nets on Saturday.