They led up to 45 points during the third quarter, an almost unprecedented margin at this level. For much of the game, the Suns looked stunned or traumatized. And the Celtics did not let go.
“We executed our game plan and played really hard every minute,” forward Blake Griffin said. “When we were leading 2, 10, 20 and 30, we were playing the same.”
Striker Grant Williams was happy to see his team still looking for loose balls when they had such a lead. There was plenty of room to let go, but no point in doing so.
Williams said when the Celtics played in Phoenix last December, he heard Suns forward Jae Crowder mocking Boston’s heavy isolation sets. Crowder said if they continued, the Suns would knock the Celtics out by 30 points.
“The next thing we looked up and we were down 30,” Williams recalled. “And I was like, ‘Shit.’ I still remember it today.”
The Celtics lost that game by 21 points and fell to 13-14 on the season. But Williams believes the team learned valuable lessons that night. He closed the regular season winning 38 of 55 games and then reached the NBA Finals, where he fell to the Warriors in six games.
But as joyful as this run was, the abrupt ending erased those good feelings, and more. All-Star forward Jayson Tatum said he was still brooding over the loss. And that’s the main reason he reacted to Wednesday’s beating with a shrug.
“While we are having fun and happy with the way we are playing, no one in the dressing room is happy or happy with our situation,” he said. “None of this means anything if we don’t hang a banner.”
But in a way, falling to Golden State helped shape this Celtics season that is becoming more memorable by the day. Players remember what it takes to get to that point, and they learn what it will take to complete the job.
“We play from our experiences, from the heartache and from the failure,” forward Jaylen Brown said, “and you see some of that coming out in the season.”
Tatum and Brown had 25 points apiece to lead the Celtics on Wednesday. Both players were fine, but neither was spectacular. The Celtics, who took control with an early 18-3 run, didn’t even shoot remarkably well from the 3-point line or get a free throw save. They just attacked the basket consistently and showed flashes of the defense that was unbreakable last year but has been uneven this season.
“Usually you have a game where you can’t miss taking a big lead,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “But we did it with shot selection, defensive effort and execution.”
Boston was without center Al Horford, who was ruled out after entering COVID-19 health and safety protocols. But that didn’t matter. Williams was 6 for 6 and had 14 points, and Malcolm Brogdon added 16.
The Suns were hoping for a boost from Chris Paul, who returned after missing 14 games with a heel injury. Instead, they went 1 for 16 from the 3-point line in the first half and never had a chance. Paul had 4 points and 4 assists in 24 minutes, and star guard Devin Booker was just 6 of 17 from the field.
Mazzulla tried to temper expectations and overconfidence during this excellent start. On Wednesday, he pointed out that many of the Suns’ misses came on wide-open shots. If a few had come in early in the game, he said, the whole night could have changed.
“It won’t always be like this,” he said.
Maybe not, but at this point, barring significant injuries, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping into a prolonged rut. It’s just too deep and talented.
“We’re underdogs, and these guys are just raising the bar,” Griffin said. “Then the guys who just rested come back and carry on… Everyone who comes in seems to add value.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.
#Guys #upping #ante #Celtics #demolished #Suns #rest #NBA #warned #Boston #Globe