On Friday morning, with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror and plenty of basketball ahead, the Celtics spoke excitedly about the fact that their roster had remained intact. They could now push forward with the group that has remained in the Eastern Conference’s upper tier all season.
They were particularly optimistic about what they will look like when their top weapons are all playing in the same game, a rare occurrence during this season that has been speckled with bumps and bruises. And while that moment might come soon, it did not come Friday, with starters Gordon Hayward (foot), Jaylen Brown (ankle) and Daniel Theis (ankle) sidelined. Fortunately for Boston, they were facing the 14-win and even-more-undermanned Hawks.
In addition to a few injuries, this week Atlanta made four trades and waived three players. So it came to TD Garden with just nine available players, and that did not include injured All-Star Trae Young.
Still, the Hawks were plucky. They chipped away at a 17-point deficit and had two shots that could have sent the game to overtime. But both missed, and the Celtics held on for a 112-107 win, their ninth in 10 games.
“I feel like we’ve got everything we need to just win a championship,” center Enes Kanter said. “And we’ve just got to go out there and prove it.”
Although Boston did not make any trades, it could still make a move in the buyout market in the coming weeks. After the game, reports emerged that veteran Marvin Williams had agreed to a deal with the first-place Milwaukee Bucks after having his contract bought out by the Hornets.
Williams and Celtics All-Star point guard Kemba Walker played together for five years in Charlotte and are close friends. When it was relayed to Walker that Williams had reportedly decided to join Milwaukee, he was stunned.
“He’s not coming?” Walker said. “Damn. He’s going to Milwaukee? All right I’m going to call him right now.”
Later, Walker told the Globe that he had spent nearly a month trying to convince Williams to join the Celtics when he agreed to his buyout with Charlotte. It appears that will not be happening.
There will be other options, but this group also feels confident that it will be just fine even if none materialize. The players cited Friday’s victory, without three starters, as another example.
“Winning isn’t easy,” guard Marcus Smart said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot to fix and a lot to learn from game to game, but I’m very proud of the way we fought, very proud of everything we did tonight to grind out that win.”
When Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about scraping out yet another undermanned victory, he was quick to point out that the Hawks were even more limited. He also noted that although Boston was missing key players, it did have its two All-Stars: Walker and Jayson Tatum.
On this night, Tatum drilled a career-high seven 3-pointers and poured in 32 points, topping the 30-point mark in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
“He's special,” Walker said of Tatum. “I don't think we've seen anything yet. We just are starting to see the beginning of some great things that are coming.”
The Celtics also received a lift from rookie wing Romeo Langford. The 20-year-old drew his first career start in Wednesday’s win over the Magic. On Friday he came off the bench and had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 29 minutes.
After a Vince Carter 3-pointer sliced what was once a 17-point Boston lead to 101-94 with 3:28 left, Stevens put Langford back in the game to close it out. A minute later he hit a 3-pointer from the left corner.
Then with 1:23 remaining he converted an alley-oop from Marcus Smart that gave the Celtics a 108-100 lead.
But the Hawks did not wilt. Brandon Goodwin (21 points), who had played just 142 minutes all season entering the night, hit a 3-pointer and then had a steal and layup that made it 108-105.
After a pair of Walker free throws were answered by a dunk from Atlanta’s John Collins, Tatum missed a 3-pointer, giving the Hawks a chance to send the game to overtime on their final possession. Langford played strong defense on Kevin Huerter, whose long 3-pointer was not close. But the ball ended up with Goodwin, and his open try from the top of the key missed, too, before Langford grabbed the rebound to seal the win.
“I was a lot more comfortable,” Langford said. “Took me a little bit to get the rhythm of the game, but once I got going I felt like I belonged out there.”
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.