After two straight losses, the latter forcing me to ask what the Celtics were even doing with their lives, all I wanted was a nice, simple win over a banged-up Brooklyn Nets squad to start my long weekend. That turned out to be easier done than said.
On Friday night, the Celtics were losing for a grand total of 33 seconds, down 3-2 for 16 seconds and 5-4 for 17 seconds. Other than a 30-30 tie that lasted 22 seconds, the Celtics led the entire game. In other words, it was pretty chill.
That game fit right in the space between blowout and nail-biter, where the game is technically competitive the whole way but never becomes truly threatening. I didn’t learn anything about if the Celtics can handle great players or teams, as the Nets fit neither criteria. But I did see a team that was capable of quietly taking care of business at home, something the Celtics will need to get a PhD in this season.
I count twelve entire teams in the NBA that the Celtics are capable of dispatching without much ceremony, as they did with the Nets last night. Will they actually do that? Absolutely not. I’m sure the season will provide its obligatory road loss to the Detroit Pistons, as well as probably some Jordan Clarkson-legacy-game loss to the Utah Jazz.
But the best version of this Celtics team doesn’t mess around with games like this. The Cam Thomas-less, Ben Simmons-less, and Nic Claxton-less Nets have no business coming into Boston and doing anything other than grabbing a clam chowder bread bowl from Quincy Market. Thankfully, the whole team got the memo and showed up the exact amount required to get back in the win column.
The Celtics eased off the accelerator pretty quickly once the 4th quarter was in hand, but no one told Jaylen Brown this was supposed to be a chill game. After getting blasted for his no-show performance against Philly, Brown woke up ready to ball harder than should be allowed, scoring nine points in under two minutes in the first quarter.
Brown’s ability to turn on sicko-mode after a rough night is one of the things I love most about him. On Thursday, I called him out for aimlessly staring into space in transition, losing the ball to more active 76ers defenders. But today, in a very similar situation, I witnessed Jaylen barrel through reaching arms like a Mack truck, cupping the ball like a running back and finishing through contact like Dominique Wilkins.
Yes, I just used three similes in one sentence, but Jaylen earned it. It seriously looked like he planned to shove the Nets in his backpack and chuck it down the stairs. I was a bit worried he would get ahead of himself and start rushing offensive possessions, but no harm no foul. Brown was awesome.
His guys had him covered, too, with Jayson Tatum extending the lead in the second quarter with a hot stretch. Jrue Holiday was all over the court, and Derrick White was wonderful as always. Other than occasionally getting blended by Lonnie Walker IV, two thumbs up.
From a team maintenance perspective, this was a likewise banner game. Al Horford rested the first night of a back-to-back, a new development that likely means his availability will depend on which opponent is more threatening. Big Al’s production last year was a miracle considering his age, but it’s looking like the Celtics plan to take a very proactive approach to getting him across the finish line this go-round.
In these take-care-of-business games, it’s important that the bench takes ownership of the situation. Horford was afforded a nice night off because Luke Kornet—someone whose playability I have repeatedly questioned—actually had a solid night out there. Sam Hauser continued his much-appreciated shooting, adding 15 points off the bench.
And then there’s the much-maligned Payton Pritchard, who got his own section of my “what are we even doing” panic report from Thursday. He was flying around the boards like usual, but more importantly, he actually put the ball in the hoop for the first time in four games. What a glorious concept.
I like an offensive rebound as much as the next guy, but Pritchard is being paid to take pressure off the team’s primary scorers and pull a shot out of thin air if need be. If he wants to pick up 94 feet or crash the glass like Moses Malone in his spare time, that’s great. But he has to be a scorer above all else. Seems like he got the memo last night, but let’s see it continue.
All in all, the Celtics took care of business in this take-care-of-business spectacular. Oh, and it was the first In-Season Tournament game. That’s cool too, I guess. (winks)