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Celtics stay golden out west, romp in Sacramento against moribund Kings

Jaylen Brown poured in 16 first-quarter points on Friday night in Sacramento, Calif., against the Kings, setting the tone in a game the Celtics controlled from the opening tip.Randall Benton/Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Celtics resurrected their season behind their menacing defense that has made opponents appear as if they are trying to slide basketballs through mail-slots. Their offense still has visible flaws, but on nights when the ball is popping and shots are falling, other teams don’t have much of a chance.

That’s what happened Friday, when the Celtics destroyed the Kings with a non-stop barrage of long-range jumpers and rolled to a 126-97 win in which they never trailed.

After their marquee win over the mighty Warriors on Wednesday, there was a chance of a letdown against this Sacramento team that was without star point guard De’Aaron Fox. There was a sparse crowd, the energy level was low, and it would have been easy for Boston to sleepwalk through the start. But it did not.


“Good focus, regardless of who they have playing,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “That’s what we’ve got to do to be solid, no matter who the opponent is. And we did a lot of good things.”

Boston made 22 of 40 3-pointers (55 percent), shot 56.1 percent from the field overall, and dished out 33 assists. Jayson Tatum had 32 points on 12 for 16 shooting, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. Jaylen Brown added 30 points in just 28 minutes.

Earlier this year, when the Celtics were trying to straighten their wayward season, Tatum and Brown rarely had big nights on the same nights, and that was viewed as a reason for the team’s struggles. The Celtics’ strong play over the last two months mostly pushed that narrative into the shadows anyway, but this game provided a reminder of how dangerous this team can be when both stars are clicking.

Udoka generally tries to stagger the playing time of Tatum and Brown. They share the court often, but when one is on the bench, the other is almost always in the game. On Friday, they passed the baton between quarters.


“You can’t run them both the whole quarter,” Udoka said, “and so somebody has to sacrifice, and they’re fine with it, knowing they’ll come back in a few minutes.”

Brown seized control at the start with his aggressive drives to the rim. He had 16 points in the first quarter and took just one 3-pointer. He had little trouble getting to his spots, and once his confidence swells, his high-arcing mid-range shots become tough to stop.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum drove to the basket past Sacramento Kings forward Justin Holiday and forward Domantas Sabonis during the second half in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday.Randall Benton/Associated Press

“I think it just got our offense going,” Tatum said. “Obviously, I think we shot the ball really well tonight, and it started with him getting going early.”

Tatum took the reins after Brown went to the bench at the start of the second quarter. Sacramento sent double-teams at him, but not with nearly the same frequency and aggression that the Mavericks and Warriors did over the last two games.

Tatum took advantage of the extra space and drilled three 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second quarter and scored 17 points in the first six minutes, helping Boston explode to a 67-48 halftime edge.

The Celtics took an 84-61 lead, their largest, on a Robert Williams dunk with 7:09 left in the third, and they appeared poised to coast to a simple win. But then they were held scoreless for more than five minutes, frustration with the officiating began to mount, and the Kings pulled within 84-75 on a Trey Lyles 3-pointer with 2:30 left.


Boston’s bench was steadying, with Daniel Theis, Grant Williams, and Derrick White scoring the next three baskets to stretch the lead back to double digits. In the fourth, Payton Pritchard hit three 3-pointers to help put away an opponent for the second game in a row.

Pritchard fell out of the rotation earlier this season but was thrust back into it after February trades created openings, and he is taking advantage of his new chance.

“At the end of the day, I’m a basketball player, so you could put me anywhere on the court, and I’m going to try to make something happen,” Pritchard said.

Domantas Sabonis had 30 points and 20 rebounds for the Kings. Although those numbers sound dominant, he never really seized control of the game.

With the victory, the Celtics strengthened their grip on the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference, pushing 1 ½ games ahead of the 5th-place Bulls with 11 games remaining. They can now think bigger than simply securing home-court advantage in a first-round series. They are just a game behind the third-place 76ers and 1 ½ games behind the second-place Bucks.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.