Given the maddening inconsistency of the Celtics this season, given they have turned sand into gold in just a matter of 24 hours on a few occasions, it should hardly be a shock that they looked so impressive Friday against the Washington Wizards.
Forget those putrid 42 minutes against the winless Philadelphia 76ers two nights previous. Their performance in a 111-78 win at TD Garden was a masterpiece, as they flattened an apathetic team with an early flurry and then coasted with their superior energy and timely shooting.
It was another impressive night for Jared Sullinger, who bullied his way to 18 points and 15 rebounds in just 24 minutes. When he wasn't nabbing rebounds, he was canning an open jumper as the Celtics led by as many as 38 points.
The Wizards, who dropped a 20-point decision to the Celtics here Nov. 6, looked lethargic from the start, with coach Randy Wittman digging deep into his bench to find a spark that would never arrive. The Washington front line of Otto Porter, Kris Humphries, and Marcin Gortat combined for 10 points on 4-for-21 shooting.
What's more, besides Bradley Beal and Jared Dudley, the Wizards were 15-for-61 shooting with 14 turnovers.
"Yeah, some of the turnovers they gave it to us," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said with a smile. "For the most part, the two games we played them, we played so hard, the ball just happens to go in your hands sometimes. We've got to figure out a way to play like that at all times."
The Celtics would love to save ingredients that produced this performance, keep in a jar and take swigs of it throughout the season. They have mystified themselves with their performances in the past week: a 25-point win over 2-11 Brooklyn, a 10-point loss to the Nets, a 24-point loss to the Hawks, and finally a ragged 84-80 win over winless Philadelphia.
So there was no hint they would lead by as many as 17 in the first quarter, recording nine assists on 11 baskets or play a stifling defense that seemingly challenged every Washington shot and disrupted the Wizards' offense.
"We just played with balanced at both ends of the court and [got] into them," swingman Jae Crowder said. "We had a good shootaround this morning and we knew exactly what they were going to do and wanted to get a good rhythm at both ends of the court, and that's what we did."
For Sullinger, it was his fifth double-double in 17 games as his continues to be the most impressive player on the roster. He frustrated the bigger Gortat with his aggression, he used his body to guide the Washington center away from the basket, and added a feathery jump shot.
Sullinger is averaging 9.4 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game and has pulled down at least 10 in eight of his past 11 games. His performance this season has been stunning considering he was projected to be out of the rotation because of his questionable conditioning.
That is no longer an issue.
"[Sullinger's] always been a great rebounder, you know, since watching him play as a kid, when that ball hits his hands it sticks," Stevens said. "But I think positionally he's probably better defensively and that's probably put him in position to better rebound.''
"I just think that as you get more aware, you get more experience, those things slow down for you about where you should be, and then once you're where you should be your talent takes over. And he's in good defensive position often."
The Celtics, who needed an 18-3 game-ending run to beat Philadelphia, moved the ball Friday with crisp passes to open shooters.
Thomas added 21 points on 9-for-21 shooting and a trio of 3-pointers while Crowder continued his offensive ascension with 17 points. After a difficult start, Crowder is averaging 12.2 points per game in his past nine contests.
David Lee and Sullinger helped spark an 11-4 run to increase the first-half lead to 19. Sullinger finished with 12 first-half rebounds as the Celtics dominated the paint, frustrating the usually effective Gortat, who missed seven of his eight shots.
There was a concern from Stevens entering Friday after his club scored 72 points in the first half of the teams' first meeting. Stevens feared the Wizards would come out with a vengeance and even Wittman quipped that he didn't have to remind his club of its shabby performance three weeks ago.
Yet, it was eerily similar to the first matchup, leaving Wittman bewildered. The Wizards have lost three straight, allowing 111.6 points in those losses and they scored 6 fourth-quarter points Wednesday against Charlotte.
On Friday, they allowed the Celtics to convert five 3-pointers in the final quarter and extend the lead to 111-73 with three minutes left.
Mercifully, the Celtics did not score again.
"You know we struggle with this team. It's two times that they kind of kicked our butt," said Dudley, the former BC forward.
"It's half of a bit of a matchup problem and half of not being disciplined and following what we need to do. I mean, you gotta tip your hat to them — coming out and being more aggressive."
"For us, it's not feeling sorry for ourselves. It's getting on this plane, getting back, get some rest, get ready for tomorrow, and be strong at home."