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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

After stumbling at the start, Celtics finish homestand with four-game flourish

Celtics guard Marcus Smart steals the ball and heads for a fourth-quarter layup against the Clippers.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The Celtics turned what was a disastrous homestand into an encouraging one by winning the final four games after losing the first three.

Thursday’s 116-110 win over the Los Angeles Clippers capped what was a strong stretch of basketball for Boston. The Celtics defeated Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston, and the Clippers in a six-day stretch, relying on their depth and fourth-quarter execution to keep the NBA’s best record.

The primary goal before the homestand began was to capitalize on the stretch and pad their lead in the Eastern Conference. After consecutive losses to the Orlando Magic and another to the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics sunk to No. 2 in the East but the past four wins along with a tumble by the Bucks put Boston in an enviable position beginning a four-game road trip.


The good news for the Celtics is they managed to finish December with a winning record (8-6) despite 32.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line and averaging 9 points fewer than in their 14-2 November. The Celtics survived their offensive skid and didn’t allow it to transform into a major slump.

They experienced the customary shooting woes that happen to every team every season but they survived with an improved defense.

“It’s going to be a concerted team effort,” forward Jaylen Brown said. “Each and every night, the game’s going to have a different story. We had a lot of players [Thursday] step up. We need everybody, especially with this road trip coming up and especially when the playoffs start. It’s never going to be two guys against five.”

Interim coach Joe Mazzulla is expected to be ready for the upcoming four-game road trip that starts Sunday in Denver and continues through Oklahoma City, Dallas, and San Antonio. He missed the past two games with corneal abrasions sustained in a pickup basketball game.


Damon Stoudamire took over for the past two games and ran the operation smoothly. What’s encouraging about this stretch is the players and coaching staff are aligned. It took months for the players and Ime Udoka’s coaching staff to gain synergy last season and that forced them to rally and exhaust themselves claiming the No. 2 seed.

It’s not that the Celtics could coach themselves but they do understand what their coaching staff expects and roles have been defined.

“Our guys played exactly how I thought they would,” Stoudamire said of the Clippers’ win. “I know none of us enjoyed what happened in L.A. [Dec. 12 loss at Clippers]. We’re all very prideful. I knew they were going to come back and have an edge to them. The Clippers challenged us. For me, it’s all about competing. Everything else as a coach you can live with.”

Having an edge is critical for the Celtics. They have to use the regular season not only to fine tune for the playoffs but to play their best when it counts, and that does not necessarily mean a great shooting percentage from the 3-point line.

It means controlling what you can control: playing strong defense and rebounding, chasing loose balls, avoiding arguing calls with officials, especially during live-ball situations. The Celtics will have to take what they’ve learned about winning in the last four games of 2022 and continue that into 2023, when the stakes continue to rise.


“I think our offense is better just to start the season than it was last year,” forward Jayson Tatum said. “I think [Brown and I] are playing individually at a high level at this time of the year compared to last year. The team is playing at a higher level. We’re just better as a team than we were last year at this time.”

And the Celtics are nearing full health. Robert Williams has played in six games since his return and averaged 8.3 points and 7.5 rebounds in 18 minutes. Mazzulla and Stoudamire are beginning to rely on him more in key situations and he was a plus-8 in his 22 minutes in the win over the Clippers.

The coaching staff hasn’t decided when or if to place Williams back in the starting lineup. But it’s apparent he’ll need to play in fourth quarters to upgrade the defense down the stretch. The best part of the homestand is Williams making it out healthy and improving.

The primary goal is to keep Williams healthy in April, so if that means limiting his minutes now, the coaching staff will ensure he doesn’t put any added pressure on his surgically repaired knees.

The Celtics learned much about themselves during this homestand. Mazzulla reiterated during the team’s 21-5 start that they would not be able to maintain that level of play without any glitches. And he was right. Five losses in six games, the embarrassing nationally televised loss to the Golden State Warriors, two losses to the below-.500 Magic and a putrid first half against the Pacers that caused them to get booed off the floor at TD Garden set the Celtics back. But they were able to respond by gutting out victories against Minnesota and the Clippers and using a rejuvenated offense to put away the Bucks and Rockets.


The Celtics still haven’t played their best basketball of the season and that’s the good news. There remains room for improvement but they would much rather be at the top of the East while undergoing that development.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.