The Celtics appeared to be in real trouble against the No. 1 offense in the NBA, as the Sacramento Kings scored 40 rather effortless points in the second quarter, then seized a 6-point lead with four minutes left in the third period.
It had been a frustrating night. Grant Williams picked up a technical for arguing calls and several Celtics were busy chirping at official Natalie Sago about her decisions. When this happened last month in Chicago, the Celtics imploded because of their lack of focus.
On Friday at TD Garden, the Celtics responded with shut-down defense and a bench spark, stymieing the Kings behind an angry Jayson Tatum and a well-rested Jaylen Brown.
The result was a 122-104 win, the Celtics’ 11th in 12 games and an impressive victory considering the Kings possess the NBA’s highest-scoring offense. The Kings matched the Celtics basket for basket for about 32 minutes before a 16-0 Celtics run provided the staggering blow.
Last month in Chicago, the Celtics allowed their emotions to impact their performance in a blowout loss to the Bulls. This time, the Celtics channeled their anger with the officiating into a dominant second-half defensive performance.
“I think just being in that situation before and just finding ways to regroup,” Tatum said. “In recent years, that [situation] would have been a snowball effect. I think we’ve figured it out there’s going to be times like that, where things don’t go your way and it’s going to be frustrating. Not let it continue, just figure it out.”
Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet made third-quarter appearances and combined for 14 second-half points as the Celtics relied on their depth. Brown and Marcus Smart each picked up their fourth foul in the third period as the Kings took a 6-point lead with 4:04 left in the third period.
“Foul trouble obviously played a part in that,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “But at the same time, just capitalizing on our depth. We talked about it from Day One. We have a lot of different ways we can do things. Credit to Payton and Luke, what they do on a daily basis to stay ready. That says a lot about where we can go with our team.”
Brown came in to start the fourth period and scored 10 of Boston’s first 12 points to put away the pesky Kings, a much-improved club under new coach Mike Brown. After scoring 62 points in the first half, Sacramento scored 28 points in the first 19:30 of the second half.
The Kings were 9-for-36 shooting in that stretch.
Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points, while Jaylen Brown added 25, including that fourth-quarter surge after being on the bench for more than nine minutes. He said he may not have handled that layoff as well in the past.
“It’s easy for a game like that to get away from you,” he said. “You’ve been sitting for over a quarter, you can be (ticked) off at the refs, and I just tried to keep in mind we need to figure out whatever we need to figure out to get a win. A younger Jaylen might have looked at that opportunity to be [ticked] and mad because the game was being called the way it was.”
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 20 points while Domantas Sabonis added 18 with 10 rebounds. The Kings were just 9 for 36 from the 3-point line.
The Celtics spent most of the second half committing fouls, complaining about fouls or sitting players in foul trouble. By the end of the third period Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart each had four fouls. Smart picked up his fourth on a flagrant foul on De’Aaron Fox on a 3-point attempt with 6:02 left in the period and sat the rest of the quarter.
After scoring just 22 points and committing 10 turnovers in the opening quarter, the Kings scored 40 points on 16-for-25 shooting with just two turnovers in the second quarter. Opposing benches have had the better of their Celtics counterparts and Friday started off no different. The Sacramento bench scored 30 of the team’s 62 points in the first half, including 10 from Davion Mitchell, who drew comparisons to Smart coming out of Baylor.
The Kings also had their issues with the officiating. Three technical fouls were called in the opening period, including two on Sacramento on the same play. Derrick White appeared to make contact with Fox as he knocked the ball away. Fox fell to the floor as Smart retrieved the ball and fed White streaking for a layup. Mike Brown stepped onto the floor to argue and immediately was called for a technical by Sago. Fox was whistled for a technical moments later by Sago. Jaylen Brown was whistled for a technical by Eric Lewis a few minutes later, disputing a reach-in call on Mitchell.
Sago was the same official who ejected Williams and Mazzulla last month in Chicago.
“We can’t just expect everything to go our way all the time,” Mazzulla said. “We’re going to be down 6 in the third quarter sometimes. And that’s OK, it’s supposed to happen. Right now everything is going really well for us. We’ve had small moments of adversity and for the first time in a bit of a time other than the one loss, we’re losing in the third quarter. We just have to kind of work through that.”