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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

This Celtics team met expectations in the regular season. And now? ‘It’s about that time.’

The biggest question mark for the Celtics entering this season was Joe Mazzulla, who was suddenly thrust into the head coaching position when Ime Udoka was suspended.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Celtics made it to the regular-season finish line Sunday unscathed. They are healthy. They are confident and they are done with the preliminaries.

Privately, the Celtics players have been eagerly anticipating the postseason. As he walked onto the floor Sunday following the National Anthem, inactive forward Jaylen Brown uttered, “It’s about that time” in reference to the playoffs. They realized the regular season was required to build chemistry, good habits, and to digest Joe Mazzulla’s system.

The season began with an abrupt coaching change and then 19 wins in the first 24 games, then a slump and then pretty consistent basketball for the rest of the way. Did boredom perhaps play a part in the Celtics’ second-half dips? Yes. But they were able to maintain well enough to nab the No. 2 seed, finish six wins better than last season after their 120-114 win over the Atlanta Hawks, and put themselves in prime position to return to the NBA Finals.

It wasn’t that the Celtics’ lost the No. 1 seed. The Milwaukee Bucks took it with that stirring 19-game winning streak. The Celtics could have won a handful more games. They could have taken lighter opponents more seriously and finished games a bit better.


Overall, though, this team met expectations. The Celtics were one of the best teams in the NBA throughout the season. They managed well despite missing starting center Robert Williams for the first two months. Jayson Tatum and Brown each took steps forward.

Tatum broke Larry Bird’s single-season scoring average record, becoming the first Celtic to score 30 points per game. Brown reached a second All-Star Game and is likely an All-NBA candidate, finishing ninth in the NBA in scoring.

Can Tatum carry Boston to Banner No. 18?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Malcolm Brogdon developed into the reliable bench scorer the Celtics envisioned while Derrick White’s confidence soared as the season progressed, as he played the best basketball of his career.


The biggest question mark entering this season was Mazzulla, who was suddenly thrust into the head coaching position when Ime Udoka was suspended.

“I think you have to go through certain stuff in order to be a winner in my opinion,” Mazzulla said. “There’s just some stuff you can’t simulate. So my focus was on what’s the most important thing at this time. And along the way you see some of the stuff you need to get better at. I tried to be open-minded and flexible throughout the entire year, understanding it’s not going to go well all the time. At the same time I have a lot of good people around me and we’re going to figure it out.”

Last year, the Celtics raced to the No. 2 seed with a 33-10 record in the last half of the season. But Williams was hobbled entering the playoffs and never 100 percent. And the Celtics exerted so much energy in that race for the second seed that they were a fatigued team.

Of course, those are excuses. The Celtics would have made it easier on themselves for the Finals if they didn’t allow Milwaukee and Miami to take them to seven games. Fatigue isn’t as much of an issue this season.

Mazzulla was able to get Tatum and Brown ample rest and also ensure that the injury-prone Williams reached the regular-season finish line completely healthy. Of course, the Celtics would have preferred the No. 1 seed and a better chance to avoid Miami in the first round and Philadelphia in the second, but if you recall, there were pundits who predicted the Celtics would lose their first-round 2-7 matchup against Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics swept the series.


This season, the Celtics finished fourth in the NBA in points scored and fifth in points allowed. Mazzulla said his primary goal was for the Celtics to flourish on both sides. Teams who can score but can’t defend and vice versa rarely make deep playoff runs.

“I knew we wanted to be a well-balanced offensive team, really work on situational basketball, wanted to get better at game management,” Mazzulla said. “I wanted to rely, empower and have guys take as much ownership as possible because it’s a very strong locker room and it’s their team and they’ve been through a lot. Those were the two biggest goals for me, stay out of the way as much as I can.”

Mazzulla had to make sure his team wasn’t looking ahead, that they weren’t too anxious and anticipatory for the postseason and lapsing in the process. And he succeeded in that plan. The Celtics lost no more than three games in a row this season and after their final three-game losing streak, finished the season 12-4, including that blowout win at Milwaukee.

Mazzulla is poised to enter his first postseason as an NBA head coach.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“I think the only time I really felt that [looking ahead] was that stretch after the All-Star Break,” Mazzulla said. “We kind of went through a little bit of a lull. I don’t think there’s anything you can do, I think that just happens. I just tried to be as honest and open with the guys as possible, reminding them what we’re trying to accomplish. And I thought our guys did a great job working out of that.”


Maybe the Celtics aren’t in the premium position for a playoff run, but they have no excuses. They’re capable of winning a game or two at Milwaukee. They’ll be favored in their first two playoff series. They are fully healthy and spend the final three games plastering their opponents and entering this money-time stretch brimming with confidence. So the regular season was a success.

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