Jayson Tatum’s best pass Tuesday night ended up in the stands.
The Celtics All-Star was on the bench during a fourth-quarter timeout when he signaled for one of the team employees launching T-shirts into the crowd to hand him one.
Tatum grabbed the rolled-up white shirt and played to the crowd. He signaled to one section to get loud, and then pointed to another to get louder, like T-shirt throwers tend to do, before launching the ball of cotton about 40 rows deep.
Celtics games this season have rarely afforded such light moments. They’re usually quite tense. But there was nothing tense about Boston’s 128-75 romp over the Kings that resulted in the second-largest margin of victory in franchise history.
“It was good, stress-free,” Celtics guard Josh Richardson said. “Every team needs one every now and then, and how many close games we’ve been in this season, we can’t take these for granted.”
The Celtics led by as many as 60 points, and in the fourth quarter the only drama was whether Sacramento would set some ignominious marks, such as being doubled up on the scoreboard, or being outscored by Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined.
The Kings dodged both disgraces, not that that’s much consolation.
Tatum scored 36 points in 31 minutes and Brown added 30 and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, and both watched the fourth quarter from the bench, their second consecutive late respite during this season in which so much has been placed on their shoulders.
Robert Williams added 13 points and a career-high 17 rebounds for Boston.
Sacramento made just 30.5 percent of its shots and 18.2 percent of its 3-pointers. Buddy Hield had 11 points and was the lone Kings player to reach double figures in scoring. After consecutive blowout wins in which their opponents were held to an average of 81 points, Boston now holds the NBA’s fifth-ranked defense.
“Our focus was great from the start,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Didn’t come out and waste time and give them any extra hope with some guys missing, and that’s what we need to do to stay consistent like that.”
The victories have come against the Wizards and Kings, so greater challenges await, but the thoroughness has offered signs of encouragement for the Celtics (25-24), who continue to have promising results when they actually have their entire team available.
“We’ve had the most time missed with COVID, we’ve had injuries, and guys just in and out of the lineup the whole first half of the season,” Richardson said. “I would like to see the stats that show up when our whole team is healthy. I think that we’re taking that step.”
Well, here’s one: Boston’s starting lineup of Tatum, Brown, Williams, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford, which has played in just 14 games this season, has now outscored opponents by an average of 21.9 points per 100 possessions.
Two games ago, Tatum was searching for answers and his jump shot. He had missed 20 consecutive 3-pointers and wasn’t entirely sure why, but he remained confident that he would snap out of his slump before too long.
Now, that dry spell has been wiped away with a pair of command performances, including his 51-point outburst Sunday against the Wizards. He has connected on 16 of 28 3-pointers over his last two games after making a total of seven over his previous seven games.
Tatum remained a valuable scorer during his long-range shooting slump by finding success closer to the rim. Now that his shot appears to be back, he’s hoping these two skills can complement each other during the season’s stretch run.
“It might have been a blessing in disguise when I couldn’t hit a 3,” Tatum said. “I still wanted to try to score, so just getting downhill a lot more during that stretch. And now just trying to put both of those together.”
On the game’s opening possession the Kings had some miscommunication on a screen, allowing Tatum the time and space to calmly hit a 3-pointer. And things mostly unraveled after that for Sacramento.
The Kings made 5 of 29 shots and 1 of 12 3-pointers in the first quarter, as Boston surged to a 38-13 advantage. The Celtics have coughed up big leads fairly often this season, but they never relented in this game. They won each of the final three quarters by at least 8 points, too.
“I mean it was kind of hard for us to mess that game up off the bench,” Richardson quipped. “The starters got us off to such a good start in both halves, so it’s kind of on us to just keep it going and keep the boat afloat.”