The Celtics finished a perfect home stand in impressive fashion on Sunday, claiming a 114-97 victory over the Magic.
Here are nine takeaways.
1. About a week after the Celtics bowed out of the in-season tournament with a lackluster loss the Pacers, Joe Mazzulla said he didn’t want the tournament to be a focal point for his team.
“My whole point in the beginning was like, if we’re going to use all our emotional energy to do this one thing and we still have 61 games left, what’s going to be our motivation after that?” Mazzulla said. “And so, are we frustrated that we didn’t get a chance to win a championship? Yes, but we do have to see that things that go into winning a championship are the things that go into winning on a Monday night in the middle of January when no one really wants to play.”
The Celtics’ win over the Magic wasn’t a Monday in the middle of January, but it was an afternoon game in the middle of December that the Celtics might have lost under different circumstances.
Instead, the Celtics sent a message to a good-but-young Magic team: Not yet, guys. Not yet, Paolo Banchero, despite your 19 first-quarter points. Not yet, Franz Wagner. Not yet, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs. The Magic are good, but the Celtics are better, stronger, deeper, more experienced, and more organized.
“What we did this week was impressive, I feel like,” Jayson Tatum said. “I’m not certain that last year, we would have won all these games. But playing two really good teams that present different challenges — teams that, especially Orlando, we struggled with in the past. Especially Friday, we had three bigs out and the way that we played in that game, we figured out a way to win.
“Winning these four games at home, I don’t know what everybody else thought, but it was impressive and I was proud of the way we played.”
2. Jaylen Brown took the game over in the fourth quarter. After knocking down a turnaround jumper, he beat Franz Wagner repeatedly off the dribble and knocked down three confident looking triples (and a two from the corner with his foot on the line). His barrage pushed the game out of reach for the Celtics, and he scored 17 of his team-high 31 points in the final 12 minutes.
“I’m just a basketball player,” Brown said. “I’m a do-whatever-the-team-needs kind of guy. First quarter, fourth quarter, I just take advantage of the opportunities I get, make the right reads, and if I get in a rhythm at any point in the game it can just add to the success.”
After one of Brown’s baskets, Mazzulla could be seen pumping his fist.
“Jaylen has really grown as a player,” Mazzulla said. ‘What he did in the fourth quarter was just playmaking, making the right play — whether it was passing or scoring, getting to his spot, and it’s been really fun to watch him grow as a player this year, and our team, our team’s mindset.”
3. To Mazzulla’s point about Brown’s growth, we continue our series highlighting Brown’s games with four or more assists. On Sunday, he did it for the fifth game in a row, this time recording six. There were several good ones — the drive-draw-and-kick to Al Horford, the touchdown pass to Jrue Holiday, the zero-dribble give-and-go to Holiday — but the best one may have been a transition dish to Porzingis in the second quarter. On the defensive end, Brown swatted a shot, then took a pass from Derrick White and veered away from the hoop at the last second, drawing two defenders. That opened up a lane for Porzingis, who threw down a one-handed dunk.
4. Tatum put an exclamation mark on the win in the fourth quarter with a massive block against Banchero.
“You see how the guys on the bench reacted. Sometimes they get more excited when I do things like that than when I score,” Tatum said. “So it’s like a snowball effect when we make those plays on defense. The energy continues to carry throughout the team and we feed off that.”
Tatum was relatively inefficient, finishing 8-for-21 with 23 points, but he made four of his six attempts from behind the arc. Of his misses, two were a pair of layups that he rebounded (and eventually finished off) in the first quarter, and four were turnaround fadeaways. That shot specifically gave him fits on Sunday.
5. Kristaps Porzingis was slow to get up after one foul in the second half, and while he eventually seemed to walk it off, seeing him limp was concerning for Celtics fans.
Porzingis said he felt good enough to play on Friday, but the training staff held out for precautionary reasons. He admitted that missing one end of next week’s back-to-back hasn’t been ruled out.
“That’s something we just started talking about. We don’t have the answer yet,” Porzingis said. “But they know my stance: I want to play in every game they allow me. But of course, they want to be smart with me and my health. Make sure I’m here for the long picture.”
6. We present these two clips of Sam Hauser scoring without comment, other than to quote the famous Russell Westbrook meme and say, “Ah! That’s pretty interesting.”
7. Banchero has genuine superstar potential, as well as some of the flaws one would expect to see from a 21-year-old. He got hot from 3-point range and burned the Celtics in the first quarter, but he also turned the ball over four times exposing it to Celtics players who are really good at swiping without fouling.
We touched on Banchero’s similarities to Tatum on Friday, but we missed one: As he closes some of the gaps in his game, he has a chance to become the kind of superstar that is really easy to build around. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are great, but players like Tatum and Banchero make a general manager’s job much easier.
8. Shout out to the Sports Illustrated Kids reporter who asked Mazzulla if he played basketball growing up and got an insightful answer from the Celtics coach about why he got into the profession.
“It’s kind of the reason why I got into coaching, is because I never had a bad experience with a coach, and you could see the impact that they make on your kids and on people,” Mazzulla said. “They helped make the sport fun, and I like just competing really hard.
“I wasn’t ever that good. So make sure you write that. But I like to play really hard, and I like being a part of a team.”
9. The Celtics just completed a very odd home stand. Now they face a road trip out west, where they will take on the Warriors and Kings on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, followed by games against the Clippers and Lakers on the 23rd and 25th.