Stomped. Bulldozed. Molly-whopped. Outclassed.
Fresh off of an overtime win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday at TD Garden, the Celtics were on the backend of a back-to-back after playing extra ball the night before. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick White all played 38+ minutes, and the former two cracked 40.
Boston had every excuse in the book, including an absent Al Horford, but none justify a 33-point defeat. Now, there is only the path forward.
“The next game,” Jrue Holiday said when asked about the best way to recover from a blowout loss.
Thursday night’s blowout is tied for the fourth-largest since 2001. Milwaukee, the two-seed in the East, dominated Boston in every facet of the game. Yet despite the loss, some key truths still prevail.
The Celtics are still the top seed in the East. They still have a three-game lead over the Bucks. They are still the only team in the NBA with fewer than 10 losses. They still have the best net rating in basketball.
Losing is bad. Losing by double digits is worse. Losing by 33 points is embarrassing. But head coach Joe Mazzulla has emphasized a day-to-day approach for the Celtics this season, and no win or loss, even of this magnitude, will change that.
“If you look at our team over the course of these [38 games], we’ve developed a toughness, a mindset,” Mazzulla said. “We’ve done a lot of great things on back-to-backs. We’ve done a lot of great things [while short-handed]. And tonight just wasn’t our night. And I think you have to have the humility to know that from time to time.”
Mazzulla pulled the starters at halftime, waving the white flag in the face of near certain defeat. Boston’s regular rotation ended the night shooting 16-of-50 (32.0%) from the field and 1-of-16 (6.3%) from behind the three-point line. In the first half, the Bucks shot 28-of-49 (57.1%) from the floor and 11-of-22 (50.0%) from behind the three-point line.
The Celtics could have rotated better on defense. They could have crashed the glass better. Their shot selection could have been better. There were about a thousand aspects of the game in which the Celtics could have been better.
But for a team that has had as much success as the Celtics have this season, the only next step is to move on. Watch the film, identify any execution-based mistakes, and move on.
Significantly altering a gameplan that has led to the best record in the league because of what is quite literally an outlier performance would be irrational. And they have no intention of doing that.
“Everything’s about the players,” Mazzulla said. “And so, as you continue to listen to life from the player’s perspective and you look at the intentions and the character of your team, and a year of experience for myself.
“So, I trust our character; I trust our team. You have to look at this and say, ‘OK, is this a one-off? Is this a trend? Is this something you have to be concerned about?’ When you look at stuff like that, the answer is no, no.”
Getting blown out by a potential future playoff opponent is ugly. And this is a game the Celtics will undoubtedly keep in the back of their minds until their March 30th rematch against the Bucks. But for now, all that matters is the Houston Rockets and their matchup on Saturday night.
“I think, with the type of team we have, the resiliency we have, how we play, and we feel like we play the right way, we’re [always] going to come out and fight,” said Holiday. “And again, it wasn’t a lack of us not hustling or playing hard. We know that when we step out onto the court, we’re going to give it our all. So, [I’m] not worried.”