In a battle between the top team in the West and the top team in the East, the Celtics showed why they are the best team in the NBA with Wednesday night’s 125-98 beatdown over Phoenix.
Entering Thursday night, the Suns ranked sixth in defensive rating and points per game, but the Celtics made them look like a JV team as they led by as many as 45 points on Monday night, even without Al Horford.
Phoenix kept it close for the first 8:30 of the game, before the Celtics would end the first quarter on an 18-5 run, sparked by Malcolm Brogdon and Luke Kornet. The bench has been a luxury for the Celtics all season, and that was on display in the first quarter.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were a combined 4-of-13 for just nine points in the first quarter, but it was the bench that stepped up. Boston would go on to outscore Phoenix 20-9 with Brogdon on the court as he scored eight points in just six minutes.
The lack of a bench has been a major flaw on recent Celtics teams, and was probably their biggest flaw a season ago. So far this season, there has been little to no drop-off when the bench has entered the game. In fact, some of Boston’s most productive lineups have come with a variation of Tatum or Brown plus the bench.
When the Celtics have needed someone to step up, they have. Take Blake Griffin as an example. He scored nine points, added nine rebounds, and netted a team-high plus-minus of +32 on Wednesday night. Griffin has only appeared in 10 games for the Celtics, but he has answered the call every time the Celtics have needed him to step up. In his 13th season, Griffin has provided energy and effort every time he has seen the floor, and the Celtics are a perfect 5-0 when he starts.
Another example is Grant Williams, who is earning himself a nice payday this summer. Williams has started in 12 games for the Celtics this season, and his versatility has been invaluable. On Wednesday night, Williams was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from deep as he poured in 14 points and added six rebounds.
Derrick White is another. White was all over the place on Wednesday night. Though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well as he was just 3-of-9 with seven points, White dished out six assists and also had three steals.
The chemistry and depth is what is most impressive about the Celtics. They have recorded 25-plus assists in 21 of their 26 games. The ball movement has been a key component in the success of an offense that has now scored 120-plus points in 15 of their 26 games. That’s a whopping 57.7%.
When a lineup that is led by the MVP front-runner, the reigning defensive player of the year, and an All-NBA player are getting the contributions they are getting from the entire team, it makes for a tough team to beat.
There is certainly reason to be excited about this Celtics team, and not just because of their 21-5 record. The defense is starting to show some flashes of what we saw last year as they have held opponents under 100 points in two of the three games they have played so far on this road trip.
Oh, and we are still yet to see them fully healthy, but that could be changing very soon. In an appearance on NBA Today Wednesday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said of Robert Williams, “The timeline right now is still potentially 10 to 12 days, but don’t rule out the possibility that Robert Williams wakes up one day and decides he’s ready to return.”
Williams is currently on the road trip with the Celtics. Make of that what you will, but it seems like a good sign.
Keep flexin’, Brad.