As much as the Celtics have preached and mostly practiced a consistent, focused mindset this season, they’ve run into something of a wall over the last two weeks. The All-Star break is around the corner, and at times, they’ve looked ready for it.
The theme continued Friday. Facing one of the worst teams in the NBA, the Celtics had to fight off some boredom against the lowly Wizards. They played one of their worst first halves of the season and found themselves down by seven after stretches of lazy, uninspired basketball. They were getting torched in transition and looked like they were going through the motions.
On the sidelines, Joe Mazzulla was clearly frustrated and publicly expressed it. But whatever he said at halftime, the Celtics responded.
Maybe water just found its level, maybe the Celtics just let their talent prevail or maybe they just woke up. Whatever the case, a dominant third quarter ultimately pushed them to the finish line in a 133-129 victory over the nine-win Wizards.
Kristaps Porzingis had another monster performance with 34 points as he once again dominated mismatches, Jayson Tatum had 35 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Jrue Holiday had 20 points as the C’s finally got it together in the second half, where they took a 15-point lead and had to hold off a late Wizards rally.
The Celtics certainly did not play their best basketball over a two-week, seven-game homestand but still finished the stretch with a 5-2 record.
The C’s produced a bad defensive effort in the first half as the Wizards torched them in transition. They gave up 71 points, including 19 from Jordan Poole in the first half, as they allowed four 3-pointers over the final 90 seconds going into halftime.
But they came out in the third quarter like the team they’re supposed to be. They raised their effort defensively, and after a 4-for-22 start from 3-point land and several missed layups, the shots finally started falling, and the Celtics took advantage of being in the penalty with Porzingis. The Celtics led by one with four minutes remaining in the period before going on a 16-4 run to end the period, with all but two of those points scored by Porzingis and Horford. After giving up 71 points in the first half, the C’s allowed just 16 points in the third, and they led by as many as 15 early in the fourth.
The Celtics led by 14 with 2:27 remaining before the Wizards, led by Corey Kispert, fought back to cut their deficit to four in the final minute, but the C’s had enough to hold on.
Other takeaways from the win:
– The Celtics rank among the best teams in the league in limiting fast-break points to opponents, entering the night allowing just 13.6 transition points per game. But a combination of missed 3-pointers and misses at the rim led to several Wizards run-outs in the first half, and the Celtics had difficulty stopping them in transition. They allowed 18 fast-break points in the first quarter and were torched for 26 by halftime.
– Count Payton Pritchard among those who don’t care about their shooting percentage taking a dip with desperation, end-of-quarter heaves. He was rewarded at the first-quarter buzzer, when he threw up a shot from beyond half-court that banked in. There was a bit of irony to the make because the Celtics struggled mightily from 3-point range. They started 2-for-12 from deep and were 4-for-22 from downtown early in the third.
Pritchard, unbelievably, almost had another one to end the third quarter after he sank a running half-court shot at the buzzer, but it was ruled just late.
– The Celtics routinely hunted mismatches against Jordan Poole, and the approach was successful throughout the night as they scored with ease on him. Porzingis was the greatest beneficiary as he had a clear advantage on Poole and several other Wizards defenders as he got to the free throw line a season-high 14 times and made all of them. The Celtics went 26-for-28 from the line.