When it was announced that Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Guerschon Yabusele would all miss Monday’s game against the Pelicans due to an assortment of maladies, it was logical to view this as the night the Celtics’ winning streak would end.
But coach Brad Stevens’s teams often grab victories when they are unexpected, and this would be another example of that, as Boston leaned on its depth and surged to an impressive 113-100 win, its sixth in a row.
“We’re not going to play perfect,” Stevens said. “We never are. But when you have a lot of guys missing, we just have to kind of stay with it — even if it’s not going our way — until it does.”
This game mostly went Boston’s way, though. The Celtics led for the final 39 minutes, 39 seconds, and their lead swelled to as many as 22 points in the second half.
During this six-game streak, the longest current run in the NBA, the Celtics are averaging 124 points per game and outscoring opponents by an average of 26. And, as Monday showed, they are even capable of doing it when they are not whole.
“I think our energy is way better since the start of the season,” forward Marcus Morris said. “Guys are really buying into their roles and it’s just starting to be fun. Like Kyrie’s been saying, it’s becoming a lot of fun. And we’re all understanding what the main goal is. And I think it’s showing.”
Morris made 10 of 15 shots and scored a season-high 31 points for the Celtics, including a stretch at the start of the third quarter in which he drilled three 3-pointers in the first 82 seconds.
Rookie Robert Williams played the first significant stretch of his career and put a jolt into the home crowd with several powerful dunks, and two blocks of perhaps the best big man of all: Anthony Davis. Williams finished with 7 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
“There’s not too many guys in the league that can block Anthony Davis’s shot,” Morris said. “That alone is special. And he showed that a few times. And he’s a young guy, and once he really learns, and once he really gets out there and time to play, he’s going to be a beast.”
When Stevens was asked about how well Williams had defended Davis, he quipped that he had helped hold Davis to just 41 points. But the All-Star did take 34 shots and nine free throws to reach that point, and Boston opted not to send double teams his way.
“That team is going to play hard no matter who is on the floor,” Davis said of the undermanned Celtics. “They did the same thing last year with no Kyrie and Gordon Hayward. We knew what we were in for walking into the building.”
The Pelicans played in Detroit on Sunday while the Celtics rested, but it was still somewhat surprising to see Boston remain a 2-point favorite in the eyes of Las Vegas oddsmakers. Then the game began, and the decision became more clear. Boston played with urgency and eagerness while the Pelicans sometimes appeared to lack interest as they jogged up and down the court.
“I think as guys have gotten more comfortable playing together and the ball’s gone in a little bit more, you feel a little better about yourself,” Stevens said. “Play happier, play freer. I just think all that stuff kind of adds into making that one extra step of effort.”
Williams, who had missed the last two games due to the birth of his daughter, checked in midway through the first quarter and guarded Davis. With 2:51 left, Davis backed down Williams and lofted a shot that Williams then swatted away, to the delight of the crowd.
Davis said later that he was surprised by the block. But Williams, to his credit, was not. When he was asked how the block felt, he replied: “Just like a block. I feel like that’s my job defensively.”
Jayson Tatum put his offensive arsenal on display in the first half, when he scored 15 of his 21 points to help the Celtics take a 59-53 lead to the break. Then Morris provided an instant boost at the start of the third quarter, drilling the three 3-pointers. He fired up a fourth that was long, but the damage had been done, with the Celtics staked to a 13-point lead.
Jaylen Brown then hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the fourth, and Williams put the final stamp on the night by swatting a fadeaway jumper by Davis, as Boston ultimately stretched its lead to 103-81 before cruising to the win.
Stevens said before the game that Irving (sore shoulder) and Horford (sore knee) were day to day, and Hayward missed the game with an illness so he probably will not be sidelined for long. But if any or all of them miss Wednesday’s game against the Wizards, the others will be ready.
“I think that’s been one of the kind of trademarks of this group has been whoever’s not available, you don’t focus on that,” Stevens said. “You just focus on how you play to your strengths.”