The Celtics rolled over another overmatched opponent on Monday night. This time, it was the Hornets, but the jerseys on the opposite bench have hardly mattered.
Boston is just doing as it pleases, regardless of who is trying to stand in the way. This 140-105 romp over Charlotte was the Celtics’ fourth win in a row and 13th in their last 14 games. And the dominance of the wins during this current streak has stood out, with Monday’s being the most thorough.
Jayson Tatum had 35 points, Marcus Smart had 22 points and 15 assists, and Malcolm Brogdon added 21 points to lead the Celtics. The score was so lopsided that all three players watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench, a common occurrence recently. The Celtics led by as many as 42 points and shot 59.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the 3-point line.
The Celtics were without Al Horford (back stiffness) and Jaylen Brown (neck stiffness), but with Boston playing its second game in as many nights against an inferior opponent, those injury announcements could be followed by a wink and a nod.
Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball, and Terry Rozier were all sidelined for the Hornets, who got 24 points from Jalen McDaniels. Charlotte committed 20 turnovers.
Observations from the Celtics’ win:
⋅ Look, there’s not much to say here. The Hornets are not a very good team, and they’re even worse when they’re missing most of their good players, as they were on Monday night. But the Celtics deserve credit for leaving no doubt and ensuring that these backups didn’t find a jolt of confidence. The Celtics took their first double-digit lead just over four minutes into the game and remained in control after that. It was another complete, thorough, and efficient effort.
“We just wanted to come in and focus on us and build great habits,” Smart said. “No matter the team, no matter who we have on the court, who’s playing that night, no matter the score, we want to continue to play the right way.”
▪ It was another high-flying, feel-good win, but coach Joe Mazzulla tried to pump the brakes afterward. He pointed out one stretch in which the Celtics committed turnovers on four consecutive possessions. When asked about the team’s good vibes, he said with a slight smile: “I don’t have great vibes after a big win like this. So don’t put me in that category.”
He stressed that more than 60 games remain, and the schedule will soon get more challenging.
“We have to be able to enjoy this, but we have to have a healthy approach to perfection in the sense of like, you can feel good, but it’s not good enough,” Mazzulla said. “And it won’t always be easy, but I think our guys are really doing a great job of understanding that things are going well, but we still have to continue to do X, Y, and Z.”
⋅ With Horford out, Blake Griffin started at center for the Celtics. When Griffin signed with the team he probably envisioned a slightly larger role over the first two months of this season with both Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams out.
But entering Monday he had played just 78 minutes all year. For one night, at least, he received a significant opportunity and turned back the clock. He started the game by drilling a 3-pointer, and the crowd absolutely erupted when he threw down a one-handed alley-oop in the second quarter.
But Griffin’s finest moment came earlier. On one first-quarter possession, he crashed the glass and tipped a missed Tatum shot to the perimeter. When Smart missed the ensuing 3-pointer, Griffin soared back into the paint and pulled down another rebound. Those are the hustle plays that will give Mazzulla faith in Griffin.
“He gives us exactly what is expected,” Mazzulla said. “It’s just we have a lot of depth and the NBA season is very long and so he can give us a lot. He’s really physical, he screens well, his ability to crash the offensive glass and his defensive communication is really good for the system that we have.”
Griffin finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds.
⋅ Smart has been an elite floor general this season. Mazzulla said the point guard has taken a noticeable step as a playmaker.
“I think this year, his ability to see the matchups, see the possession before it happens, and then using our playbook to use the matchup to figure out what he wants to run,” Mazzulla said. “So I have full trust in him diagnosing where the matchup is, where the advantage is, and what play-call we can call to exploit that. He’s doing a great job anticipating that once he gets the ball, and he’s also doing a great job pushing the pace.”
Smart said it’s possible to be in a zone as a passer. When asked about how he is seeing the floor, he quipped that he is doing it with X-ray vision. He said it’s helped that his teammates have been able to read his body language and his rhythm, putting everyone in lockstep.
“Trying to get everybody the ball at the right time when they need it, where they like it and just to get us some easy baskets by doing that,” he said. “It gets everyone’s confidence up and when people’s confidence is up, they tend to play a little harder on both ends of the floor.”
⋅ Tatum seemed to realize that the lopsided score would cut his night short. He attempted 28 shots, tying his season high, through just three quarters. He faced little resistance getting to the rim and had some crafty finishes, but he was just 4 of 14 from the 3-point line, dropping to 34.7 percent for the season, a career low. It’s not really an area of concern yet, but it’s worth monitoring.