For the Celtics, the last few weeks have been tense. Entering Wednesday’s game against the Nets, five of their last six games had been decided by four points or fewer, and three of those had gone to overtime. There was only one rout in this stretch, and they were on the wrong end: a 15-point loss to the lottery-bound Magic.
So Boston was due for — and perhaps in need of — a wipeout win. A night when 3-pointers poured through the net. A night when stars could watch the game from the comfort of the bench, with their services no longer necessary. A night when the score became so lopsided, fans could go and buy a pretzel without fear of missing something important.
The final result was a breezy and low-stress 139-96 wipeout in which the Celtics led by as many as 49 points and never trailed. The win felt just as dominant as the numbers make it appear.
“I think this was pretty much a really complete game,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “The score aside, put aside the guys they had out, I just liked the way that I could feel it, the way that we were ready to play today. Three days off, we were fresh, mentally fresh. And we just had a sense of purpose.”
The task was made easier by the fact that the Nets were missing Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, and T.J. Warren. But in the NBA, an opponent’s absences can sometimes create a false sense of security. In this game, they ultimately just created conditions for a rout.
Of course, everything looks better and runs more smoothly when 3-pointers are going in. That was primarily how Boston’s offense put together a historically hot start to this season, and the start of this game was almost unfair to the Nets.
The Celtics connected on eight 3-pointers in a row. The final dart of the seemingly unending spree came from Tatum, with 2:59 left in the first, and it stretched the Celtics’ lead to 41-11.
“I think [we were] moving the ball, trusting each other, and then shooting it with confidence,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “I think there are games where we’ll move the ball but we won’t shoot it with confidence. We won’t shoot the first great shot. We’ll try to pass it up and make an even better pass. Sometimes it’s important to shoot the first really good one you have, I think tonight we did that.”
The Celtics shot 57.6 percent from the field overall and set a TD Garden record by making 26 3-pointers. Tatum finished with 31 points and Brown added 26, and both players were able to watch the fourth quarter from the bench thanks to the damage the team inflicted over the first three.
This development was particularly notable for Tatum, whose workload has come under scrutiny. He entered Wednesday averaging 37.5 minutes per game, second-most in the NBA. He has complained of left wrist soreness for much of this year, and after playing 47 minutes in Saturday’s overtime win over the Lakers declared that he was exhausted.
He has also made it clear that whenever the decision is put in his hands — as it has at times this season — he will choose to play. He said Wednesday that despite his heavy minutes, his body generally feels fresher than it did last season, when he admitted to feeling rundown during the Finals loss to the Warriors.
Of course, if the Celtics make the Finals again, that means there are still five more months of wear and tear to come. When coach Joe Mazzulla was asked after this win whether he was concerned about Tatum’s playing time, he said he was not.
“Because I spend every day with him, and I see what he’s done all summer,” Mazzulla said. “I see what he’s done all preseason, I see what he does every single day. But yes, if you can get moments and opportunities like this, you’re grateful for them and you take advantage of them. Absolutely.”
Celtics center Robert Williams returned to face Brooklyn after missing the game against the Lakers because of a sprained ankle and had one of his most efficient performances since making his season debut in mid-December, finishing with 16 points and 9 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
With Durant, Simmons, and Warren sidelined, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn was left little choice but to go with smaller lineups that could potentially make up for obvious defensive deficiencies with scorching 3-point shooting. Then Brooklyn started the game 1 for 11 from the field, and Boston could not miss.
Yes, the Celtics’ 3-point shooting provided a significant boost. But Boston truly found a rhythm by flicking away smaller perimeter defenders such as Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, and Joe Harris and reaching the rim with little trouble. Boston held a 15-2 edge in second-chance points.
The boos and chants directed at Irving (20 points) were as muted as they have been since he left this franchise four years ago, but the uneven score probably removed some of the vitriol.