Heading into the All-Star break last season, the Boston Celtics had just won nine of their last ten games, showing some signs of life after a dismal start to the season. Their win streak was snapped by the Detroit Pistons, who they just so happened to face on the eve of the break this year, too. But this time around, Boston got the upper hand.
The Celtics took down the Pistons 127-109, laying the smackdown on Detroit in the fourth quarter to cement a victory. They’ve won five of their last six games and sit at 42-17 on the year.
Boston had a chance to extend their win streak into the break, but a short-handed loss at the expense of the Milwaukee Bucks ruined that goal. However, the loss may have instilled an even deeper sense of connection in the locker room.
“I texted the group [and] told them I love the way they competed,” Tatum told CLNS Media, as the superstar missed Boston’s tilt in Milwaukee. “I hated not being there, but I told them I really enjoyed watching them play. It was really fun to see the way those guys competed, the way they played together. And I know there was a lot of talk about who wasn’t playing and who was missing, but I had all the faith in those guys to win that game from the start. I joked about it. ‘We shoot a lot of threes.’ I noticed that yesterday, we shoot a lot of threes, but guys [were] knocking them down. And we had a chance to win the game. It was just a great game to watch.”
Despite being down four starters (Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford), the Celtics’ role players took the Bucks to the limit but ultimately faltered in overtime. Six different Celtics players cracked double-digit scoring numbers, and Derrick White even finished with his third straight 20-point, 10-assist game.
Boston’s locked room has shown a special spark this year. One glimpse of the Celtics bench shows just how close this particular group of guys has gotten.
Take Blake Griffin’s constant on-court antics, for example. When the 13-year NBA veteran dove for a loose ball late in their game against the Pistons, the whole squad was grinning ear to ear.
“Loved it, man. I loved that. For Blake and for this team,” Smart told CLNS Media when asked about Griffin’s hustle play. “Those guys have been playing their butts off since me, Jayson, Jaylen, and a couple of other starters have been out, and we’ve been loving every last minute of it. For Blake to come in and understand that he’s not the same Blake Griffin he was a couple of years ago — his minutes are down — but he’s still a professional. To come in and give his body up on the line for his teammates, I don’t see how you don’t get excited for that. We all just want to make sure we show that and give him his roses.”
Griffin hasn’t been a part of the team’s regular rotation this year, but with the number of injuries Boston has been dealing with, he has been thrust into a larger role when he has seen the floor. When one of the Celtics’ two starting big men has been sidelined, Griffin has gotten the call.
He’s delivered in the scoring column as of late, dropping nine points against Detroit, 15 against Milwaukee, and a crucial 15 in a recent win over the Philadelphia 76ers, but his main contributions aren’t recorded in the box score.
In what has now become a habit, Griffin finds himself diving to the floor in nearly every game. Despite his inconsistent playing time, whenever Griffin does get on the court, he leaves his body on the line for this team.
“I’ve said it a couple of times, and I even told Mike Muscala when he first got here, I was like, ‘cherish this locker room because it’s one of the strongest and, maybe the most special one you’ll be in,’” head coach Joe Mazzulla told CLNS Media. “I think Blake’s a huge cornerstone of that just because of the career he’s had and where he’s at now and the humility he brings. Just coming in every single day, whether it’s playing with the younger guys or whether it’s starting for us, his attitude and his focus on what’s most important doesn’t change. And so, he has the utmost respect of everybody in the locker room. Him and Al and those guys are a cornerstone of that.”
Griffin’s smiling face can often be seen at the end of the bench chopping it up with Tatum, Payton Pritchard, or any number of Boston’s players.
The on-court product has been phenomenal this season, as the Celtics will head into the All-Star break with the best record in the NBA. But there’s more to success than just playing well on the basketball court - team chemistry matters.
Back at the end of November, Malcolm Brogdon spoke about how special this Celtics team is. He revealed that he constantly reminds Tatum, Brown, and the rest of his teammates to appreciate the Celtics because “there’s always a wonder of what it’s like somewhere else.” He tries “to get guys not to wonder at all because this is special.”
Fast forward a few months, and nothing has changed.
“It’s the best locker room I’ve been a part of. By far,” Brogdon told Jay King of The Athletic after Boston’s win over the Pistons.
The Celtics are still the best team in the league, they are building on their success from last season, and the vibes are still immaculate.