The TD Garden crowd got a glimpse of the future on Wednesday night, as rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama took the court in Boston to face the Celtics on their home court for the first time in what looks to be a long NBA career. Despite strong play from the young phenom, though, the Celtics thoroughly handled a young San Antonio roster, earning their second blowout win over the Spurs this season, 117-98.
Leading the way for the Celtics was the trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday, who score 20+ points apiece en route to 67 combined for the night. They helmed a balanced effort for a shorthanded Boston team on the evening, in which every player who took the court recorded at least two made baskets. For the Spurs, the 19-year-old Wembanyama had another remarkable outing, scoring 27 on 10-of-19 shooting, and Devin Vassell added 21, but the supporting cast didn’t offer enough of a punch for San Antonio to keep pace.
With Derrick White (ankle) and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) out for this matchup against the towering San Antonio rookie, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla opted for size in the starting lineup. Al Horford assumed a spot, as he usually does, but the surprise second fill-in was reserve center Luke Kornet. Clearly, dealing with Wembanyama’s outlier size and prodigious skill was a point of emphasis in this matchup.
Early on, that emphasis didn’t seem to help. Wembanyama was on the money from the jump in this one, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes of the game, including two made threes. The Celtics also struggled to control the glass against San Antonio’s duo of Wembanyama and Jeremy Sochan, allowing three quick offensive rebounds in the early going. The Spurs have played better basketball in recent weeks than their record would lead you to believe, and you could see it on the court.
While a blowout didn’t seem imminent just yet, the Celtics also didn’t get caught flat-footed. Wembanyama was a handful, but the Spurs’ careful management of his minutes kept him off the court for the remainder of the first quarter, and the San Antonio defense had little capability to contend with Boston’s scoring. Behind hot starts from Tatum, Brown and Holiday, the Celtics simply outscored the Spurs. They led by five entering the second quarter, 30-25.
makes the tough buckets look easy pic.twitter.com/lwDELTMnE4— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 18, 2024
The issue for San Antonio was that there just wasn’t enough of a contribution from the supporting cast around Wemby. Outside of the rookie’s 14 first-half points, just one Spur — Malaki Branham — converted more than two field goal attempts. Tatum and Holiday, meanwhile, were scorching hot. Tatum scored 17 on the half, while Holiday followed his Celtics-career-best 22 points against Toronto with 14 of his own in the first tonight. One 40-point quarter later, the Celtics were walking into halftime enjoying a 70-45 lead.
It’s been encouraging to see Holiday taking a bit more assertive of a role in the Boston offensive the past two games. All of this team’s star players have had to make personal sacrifices for the good of the roster — there’s only one basketball, after all — but none of scaled back further than Holiday has. After scoring 19.3 points per game on a 25% usage rate in his final year with the Bucks, those numbers have dropped to 13.9 and 17.2 this year. He’s accepted his reduced role without complaint, but it has been nice to see he can still turn up the volume when the team requires it.
The emergence of Devin Vassell prompted something of a San Antonio comeback in the third quarter. They rattled off a 9-0 run midway through the quarter, part of a surge that cut the Celtics’ lead down as low as 14. Boston had built themselves enough of a buffer, though, that they were able to withstand the surge. The continued brilliance of Tatum, Brown and Holiday — along with some energy and hustle from Payton Pritchard and Neemias Queta — kept the Spurs at arm’s length. Despite a 33-point quarter for San Antonio, the Celtics entered the final frame with a 16-point lead, 94-78.
There wasn’t much drama to be had in the fourth. The Celtics rattled off an 11-2 run to kick off the quarter, and a 25-point lead with nine minutes remaining was always going to be too much to overcome for the young, discombobulated Spurs offense. From there, it was a matter of playing out the clock — even as a displeased Mazzulla called for a timeout and challenged an out-of-bounds call in the waning minutes of the game. For what it’s worth, he won the challenge. The Celtics’ rotation hit the bench roughly one minute of game time later.
Next up, the defending champs are coming to town, as the Celtics host Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN.