LONDON — Celtics forward Marcus Morris said the five-hour time change his team dealt with after coming here Monday was so extreme that he has hardly slept at night. Boston’s training staff tried creative ways to reset the players’ body clocks, but there was no real way to tell how effective they had been until the team took the court.
Then this game against the 76ers began, and the Celtics looked sleepy, slow, and silent. Philadelphia, which dealt with the same inconveniences, surged to a 22-point second-quarter lead.
But this season the Celtics have often rallied when facing large deficits. Point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been in more tense moments than anyone on his team, shrugged off the quiet beginning. He told his teammates that if they just brushed away the cobwebs, they would find a way.
Forward Jaylen Brown was even more vocal from the bench.
“Stay the course!” he yelled. “Stay the course!”
And that is exactly what the Celtics did. They swiftly and emphatically turned a blowout inside-out, flipping the 22-point hole into an ultimately breezy 114-103 win, their seventh in a row.
“We did a great job of taking it possession by possession, and guys’ legs starting gearing back up,” Irving said. “It just happens sometimes when you travel over six hours.”
Over the first half of this season the Celtics had a league-high 43 games crammed into 82 days. They were looking forward to this game against the 76ers because it would be bookended by a total of eight days off. But the game itself would offer another test of mettle.
From Gordon Hayward’s opening-night injury, to Morris’s consistent absence, to the brutal schedule, the Celtics have consistently flicked away any hint of adversity. They are now 34-10, the best record in the Eastern Conference by a comfortable margin. And it feels like the most difficult part of the regular season is behind them.
Morris’s performance is the most encouraging. The forward has missed 22 games this year with knee soreness, and when he did play, his knee sometimes made him reluctant. Now, he said, he feels as good as he has all year, and his minutes restriction has been almost entirely lifted.
“Now I can work harder,” Morris said. “I get a good feeling about the game. I can play through my misses, play through my makes, and just build a rhythm.”
Commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday that tickets for this game sold out in just 52 minutes, and that it would have been even faster if online processing systems had not been slow.
Boston fans certainly outnumbered 76ers supporters and even successfully started numerous “Let’s go, Celtics” chants. But the atmosphere was quite mild in the first half, partly because the Celtics gave these fans little to buzz about.
The crowd was particularly ready to latch onto Irving, but it took him a bit to find a rhythm, as he made just one of his first six shots. J.J. Redick had no such issues. The 76ers sharpshooter made 4 of 6 3-pointers and scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half.
“We made it way too easy for Philadelphia to score, especially for Redick,” Celtics center Daniel Theis said. “We didn’t match up in position. We gave him so many open looks, and he’s great coming off screens and hand-backs.”
The 76ers popped Boston with a 21-4 run to start the second quarter in which Ben Simmons (16 points) hit several difficult mid-range jumpers, including a fadeaway with 6:55 left that gave his team a 49-27 advantage, its largest.
The 76ers still had a seemingly comfortable 21-point lead with four minutes left when the Celtics closed the half with a 15-3 burst. Theis had an important role in that flurry, scoring 5 points — including an emphatic dunk as he was fouled — and accounting for 5 more with a steal and an offensive rebound. Considering the once-deep hole, the Celtics felt fortunate to go to the break facing a manageable 57-48 deficit.
“I don’t think we were ready for the punch they gave us in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But to our guys’ credit, it’s a 48-minute game, and they kept going.”
Boston’s surge continued in the third quarter, thanks in large part to Jayson Tatum. The rookie was just 1 for 3 in the first half, but in the third the Celtics made an effort to find opportunities for the dangerous shooter.
Tatum made five consecutive shots over the first 5:30, and Boston took its first lead of the game, 69-68, on a Theis dunk. A 3-pointer by Morris with 3:16 left gave Boston a 77-70 lead, making it a 41-14 run since late in the second quarter.
The 76ers trailed, 87-83, early in the fourth when the Celtics put them away with one more ambush. This time it was a 15-2 run in which Morris added a three and a fadeaway jumper.
“Once the second half kicked in, we turned it up to another gear,” Morris said. “We’ve just been resilient all year.”
The Celtics were scheduled to return to their downtown London hotel on Thursday night before boarding a flight back to Boston on Friday morning.
When they arrive, some rest will be waiting. But the players understand it will be fleeting, and that they have not accomplished anything just yet.
More scenes from London
Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at email@example.com.