The Boston Celtics continued to roll Wednesday night, with a historic 155-104 drubbing against the Indiana Pacers. It marks the second-most points in franchise history, falling short of the 173 mark set in 1959 against the Minneapolis Lakers.
In over a decade of following this league about as closely as one can, It’s hard to pinpoint many games that felt over quicker than this one. The Cs started the game with the foot on the gas and never hit the brake.
Yes, Pacer’s All-Star and offensive engine Tyrese Haliburton was out with an ankle injury. Indiana’s winning percentage gets slashed in half in games he misses, making him undoubtedly one of the most invaluable players in the league. But this is professional basketball. Just last season, the Phoenix Suns C-team rolled into TD Garden and stunned the Celtics, beating them by double digits.
You still have to play the games.
It sounds cliche, but this game goes far beyond the box score. There was a plethora of players and storylines that shined, but even in such a dominant victory, there were still some things Boston should aim to clean up. It’s time to dive into the winners and, admittedly, very few losers from a rare, unforgettable November game.
Boston Celtics Winners
Jayson Tatum’s MVP Campaign
On a team with three other shining stars, Jayson Tatum stands out like a supernova. Every season, he has taken statistical leaps, but something has clicked with his execution. There’s a maturity to his game that started to rise to the surface last year but is beginning to reach another level.
Don’t believe me? Look at his free-throw attempts. Tatum scored 30 points on just 15 shot attempts because he got to the line 10 times. He’ll likely always settle for a few head-scratching step-back threes (which he routinely makes), but his emphasis on getting to the cup has been refreshing.
Getting to the rim at will allows Tatum’s perimeter game to flourish and puts him firmly in the conversation as the best three-level scorer in the NBA. Couple this with his suffocating defense and being on a perennial contender, and you have an MVP front-runner in the making.
Banners aren’t hung four games into a season, but habits that help raise them are. The Celtics offense has been relentless and maximizing Joe Mazzulla’s run-and-gun philosophy. Boston’s not only getting shots they want, but they’re able to maximize their offensive possessions due to forcing turnovers on the other end and crashing the glass.
Holistically, this is nearly unprecedented. Boston has scored 508 points through four games. In the 77 years as a franchise, that’s tied for second-most during that span. The starting five (White/Holiday/Brown/Tatum/Porzingis) has a net rating of +37.3. For comparison, the Bucks starters are hovering at -3.6.
Last season, ownership threw Mazzulla into a head coaching job with no experience late in camp with a staff decimated from departures. Even if he was tough to watch sometimes, it’s not inconceivable he’s far better than many gave him credit for. Add a rejuvenated assistant pool and an entire off-season to implement his system, and “Mazzulla ball” might just be a thing. So far, so good.
If you were to poll 100 fans about why a fully healthy Boston Celtics team wouldn’t win the title, I’d imagine over 80 would say due to their undermanned bench. The two most important pieces to that unit are Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser. Both had been major disappointments heading into last night’s game.
Pritchard has had his minutes yanked around because the starting unit has been so deadly. The problem is that his offensive output directly correlates to a defined role. He has struggled to come off the bench and assemble a serviceable four-minute stretch, which is a problem.
Hauser, as Brian Scalebrine points out five times a game on Celtics broadcasts, is an underrated defender. He can hold his own and has improved drastically with his rotations. But his primary role is to be a three-point sniper, so starting the first three games 3-15 from downtown is worrisome.
Even with the game well out of reach, it was important for these guys to find their mojo. Hauser was lights out from deep, going 5-6 and notching an impressive 17 points. Pritchard added an efficient 15 of his own, and the tandem outscored every Pacers starter. All it takes is one game to get back on track, and Boston won’t be up 51 points every night. These guys will play in high-leverage moments eventually, and these stints are important reps for when those situations arise.
Boston Celtics Losers
This Was Harder Than I Thought…
The Celtics won by more than double my age; there’s not much to actually critique. I promised losers, so I will give a few minor observations that can be nothing or glimmers of foreshadowing that could play a role in closer contests.
Kristaps Porzingis has had a harsh whistle, but he needs to limit his fouls. If the backup big rotation continues to be Al Horford and Luke Kornet, this team will have problems.
There were a few times the Boston Celtics allowed uncontested weak-side rebounds. Eastern Conference foes like the Knicks or Cavaliers will exploit that in a heartbeat.