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When they’re locked in, these Celtics have the ability to be great — from start to finish

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Perhaps the most distressing and frustrating aspect of Celtics teams the past half-decade was their inability to enjoy prosperity, the lack of focus against lesser teams that cost them key victories and playoff seedings.

This current edition, filled with players desperate to take the next step, are avoiding those issues in the early season. For the second consecutive game they completely outclassed an inferior opponent, refusing to toy around with the undermanned Indiana Pacers, turning the game into a rout by halftime.

The result was a stunning performance as the Celtics obliterated the Pacers,155-104, Wednesday at TD Garden. It was the most points the Celtics scored in a regular-season game in 64 years and the second-most in club history. Only the Celtics of 1958-59 scored more (a 173-139 victory over Minneapolis).


And what’s been impressive about this bunch is their determination to close out in the third quarter. The Celtics led by 21 at halftime and began the third on a 19-5 run for a 35-point lead.

The genesis of this relentless approach was a March 3 game last season, when the Celtics led the Brooklyn Nets by 28 points in the first half, started playing like the Harlem Globetrotters, allowed Brooklyn to rally and lost the game by 10 points.

Coach Joe Mazzulla considered the lackadaisical play unacceptable and he’s mentioned that particular game multiple times to his players as a reminder to take every opponent seriously because great teams don’t cheat the game. Maybe the Celtics teams in the past few years just weren’t great.

Joe Mazzulla is using an embarrassing loss to the Nets last season as a reminder to his team to finish out games.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

This one is soaring in that direction.

Jrue Holiday comes from a Bucks team that won 16 straight and 21 of 23 last season. Such streaks are indicative of a team that consistently plays at a high level, that does not look at the injury list or active roster to assess how hard they should compete.


Prior to Wednesday, All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton was scratched with a right ankle sprain. And flashback to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was held out with knee issues, and center Al Horford acknowledged the Celtics may have relented because they thought the challenge would be easier. James Harden scored 45 points and the 76ers won.

“I think there’s a maturity, a competitive nature, being able to lock into whoever you’re playing against,” Holiday said.“I know that there’s times where there’s a lesser-caliber team or you could look at a team on the stat sheet and you can be like, ‘This will be an easy night for us.’

“I think that’s part of the mindset that we’re having. Each game is different. Each game is an NBA game and each player is an NBA player, any night they could go out and give you 40, 50 points. As a team you’re really locked into that mentality.”

There is the losing side to blowouts such as these. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has coached great teams and rebuilding ones. He knew his club would have a difficult time winning against the loaded Celtics, but he was disturbed by his team’s lack of effort, but also impressed with the opponent.

“Ugly, ugly game,” he said. “They played great. But we allowed them to play as great as they played. I take the blame for this. This is on me. I didn’t have our guys ready to compete and the level they needed to compete at. That’s on me.


“But this is an embarrassing result and not acceptable for what we’re trying to do here.”

Rick Carlisle and the Pacers were on the wrong end of the blowout Wednesday night.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

When he had a chance to catch his breath, suppress his disappointment and reflect, Carlisle lauded the Celtics’ focus.

“They’re a very unique team, a very talented team,” he said. “They shoot an awful lot of threes and a lot of them are just rising up in your face. But they were comfortable early and we just didn’t do enough. Just very disappointing. They’ve got a great roster and they’ll be a team in the conversation for the championship, obviously. But we’ve got to do better.”

Every team, even the great ones, have stumbles. Wednesday was a perfect example. Milwaukee got blown out at Toronto. The Denver Nuggets are no longer undefeated after losing by 21 at Minnesota. There are going to be nights when you just don’t have it, where you get outplayed and fatigue may set in.

The Celtics won’t be perfect every night, but they have enough talent and focus to avoid those speed bumps and lackadaisical stretches that plague teams and prevent good teams from greatness.

“Tonight we showed maturity and mental toughness,” Mazzulla said. “It’s just who they are. They’re aware of it. They’ve been around a long time. They communicate with each other. That’s the standard they set for themselves. Even at the 8-minute mark [of the third quarter] until the 4-minute mark when they came out [of the game], they were competing, making multiple efforts. That is a testament of the toughness you have to have to handle the things that go [on] in the NBA.”


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