The Celtics on Wednesday gave up 133 points against the lowly Wizards, the second-highest total they have allowed in a regulation game in the last 22 years.
On many nights, that would be a cause for great concern and perhaps a signal that the recent good times have ended. But on this night, while it was not great, it did not really matter, as the Celtics scored 140 points of their own and stretched their winning streak to nine games with a 140-133 win.
It was the Celtics’ highest output since pouring in 150 against Washington — back when the franchise was still known as the Bullets — on Nov. 25, 1992.
“We obviously want to run, push the ball, and continue to score the ball, but we have to hold ourselves accountable on the defensive end, starting with me,” forward Jaylen Brown said.
The Celtics’ shoddy defense on Wednesday will end up as little more than a footnote, though. The bottom line is that the team is now 9-1, the best record in the NBA, and it already has shown a great ability to cobble together wins on nights it is shorthanded. That has been an especially important part of this hot start, because this team was not expected to be as deep as the one that preceded it.
Against Washington, the Celtics were without Gordon Hayward (hand), Daniel Theis (finger), and Robert Williams (ankle), but they burst to a 16-point second-half lead and held on for the win anyway.
Kemba Walker led a balanced Boston scoring attack with 25 points, including a key 3-pointer with 1:06 left after the Wizards had methodically sliced their deficit to just 4 points.
“Whenever [coach Brad Stevens] is calling the plays for me, whatever’s my play, I’m just looking to be aggressive, make the right play,” Walker said. “But my teammates do such a great job kind of stretching, getting me open, holding the screens. They know I like to pull up off the screens so they do a great job of just getting me open.”
After Jayson Tatum had a grisly 1-for-18 shooting night in Monday’s win over the Mavericks, he went to the team’s training facility for a late-night workout to regain his rhythm. And on Wednesday he bounced back with 23 points. Brown added 22, and rookie Carsen Edwards, who has been in a bit of a shooting slump this season, came off the bench to score 18.
“I just try to stay ready,” Edwards said. “Whenever your name is called, just try to stay ready. At the same time make the best decisions to stay on the floor. Not even catch fire and score a whole bunch of points. I’m trying to make the right plays defensively, offensively, just help my team.”
All-Star Bradley Beal poured in a game-high 44 points for the Wizards, but it is clear that on this team, he simply does not have enough help, particularly on defense.
Former Celtics star Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, played in his second game at TD Garden since being traded away in the Kyrie Irving deal in August 2017. Thomas, whose soaring career has been stalled by injuries, is as healthy as he has been in some time, and can still find creative ways to score.
But it’s obvious that his full burst has not returned, and that staying in front of opponents will be an issue. He received a hearty ovation when he was introduced before the game, then scored 18 points and dished out seven assists in 32 minutes.
Thomas said it felt good to once again get meaningful minutes in a game at TD Garden, but the result was not satisfying for him. Thomas was the initial catalyst for Boston’s ascension after arriving here in 2015, and he was asked if it was hard to see the Celtics have so much success without him.
“As a competitor, I hate it,” he said. “But I mean, to see them jelling like they are and playing the best basketball of any team in the NBA right now, you’ve got to take your hat off to them. They’ve got great players, they’ve got a great coaching staff to put them in position to be successful, and that’s what it’s all about. Like I said, if you don’t play harder than them and if you make more mistakes than them, they’re going to be hard to beat.”
Other teams around the NBA are starting to realize this truth, too.
The Celtics will depart on Thursday for a five-game trip that includes games against the Warriors, Kings, Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets. Although Golden State has been ravaged by injuries and is expected to now be one of the worst teams in the NBA this seasons, the Suns have been surprisingly good, and the Clippers and Nuggets are expected to be two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
“Last year when we went on West Coast trips we didn’t do too well,” Tatum said. “So just trying to change that around and keep this up.”