With the #2 seed all locked up, the Celtics didn’t have much to play for Friday night. They were hosting the Raptors for a second straight game without Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Malcolm Brogdon. The remainder of the regular season was all but a formality. Nothing was on the line. Jayson Tatum played only in the first half. And the Celtics won in blowout fashion anyway.
“We had no reason to be competitive and play the way we did other than it was the right thing to do,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said after a 121-102 blowout of Toronto where his team was leading by as many as 36 points in the first half.
Yes, if not for some dizzy spells in December and another right after the All-Star break, Boston should have been the #1 seed in the entire league and an iconic 60-game winner. But alas, whether it was the monotony of the regular season or impatience for a second chance to complete unfinished business after their Finals run came up short last July, these are our Celtics. They’re pretty damn good and playing their best basketball of the season.
“Experience is the best teacher. This group, we’ve been through alot over these last two years. We accomplished a lot and we failed together,” Tatum said after scoring 21 points in twenty first half minutes and becoming the first Celtic to average 30+ points per game in a single season.
“Essentially, we worked all offseason, preseason and had a great regular season. To get to this point, to get back to the playoffs, to get another opportunity, another shot. This is the moment that — not been waiting for — but working for.”
Remember when the Celtics had the best start to the season? And people said 'it's not how you start, it's how you finish'... pic.twitter.com/qvszIst2wU— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) April 8, 2023
If you believe in momentum, this could be a better time for the playoffs to come. They’ll have to wait for Tuesday to find out who they’ll meet in the first round. It’ll either be the Miami Heat or the Atlanta Hawks in town next weekend and they’ll be facing a Celtics team at the peak of their powers.
It was unrealistic to expect the Celtics to maintain their hot start. Through the first twenty-two games in October and November, they boasted a blistering 121.5 offensive rating and shooting 40.8% from behind the arc.
But over the course of the 82-game regular season, water found its level on that side of the ball and instead of catching fire on offense, Boston regained their defensive identity that made them so tough at the turn of the new year last season.
Through March and April, they’re allowing just 108.7 points per 100 possessions over nineteen games. And if the season truly did end today, they’d finish the year with the second best offense and second best defense in the NBA, good for first in net rating.
“I don’t think we really had that many ups and downs this year. I mean, we won 70% of our games,” Mazzulla said.
The Toronto Raptors came into town with an opportunity to move up in the standings and potentially face the Celtics in the postseason; beat Boston on their home floor twice would have sent a resounding message to a contending top-seed. Instead, a convincing two-game sweep extinguished those hopes and more so big picture, put the entire league on notice.