Celtics

6 takeaways as Celtics snap skid, end 2021 with a big win over the Suns

Robert Williams had a triple-double, and Marcus Smart scored 24 points in his return.

Celtics Suns takeaways
Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Grant Williams of the Boston Celtics fight for possession of the ball. Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics – overcoming all expectations – held on to a big lead against the Suns to claim a 123-108 win in their final contest of 2021.

1. To some degree, everyone saw Friday’s win coming — a chance for the Celtics to rally against a real contender after falling flat against a team that barely resembled the Timberwolves and the Clippers minus their stars (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and – at least against the Celtics – B.J. Boston). The Celtics aren’t your typical bad team but rather a confusing one.

There are plenty of reasons to reserve judgment on this year’s Celtics. Most notable was the losing streak the Celtics broke with Friday’s win. Maybe second-most notable was the palpable tension that hung over what should have been a blowout heading into the final frame.

Advertisement:

“The Celtics will look to hang on,” Mike Gorman said on the NBC Sports Boston broadcast as the third quarter came to a close with the Celtics leading 100-77.

Still, beating the Suns is a nice respite for the Celtics from what has been a discouraging stretch of hoops. The Celtics need a lot more health and consistency in 2022, but Friday’s result was a start.

2. Robert Williams has been up and down this season, most notably on the defensive end, but Friday’s game showcased his entire skillset. He recorded a triple-double, shot 5-for-5 from the floor, and became just the 15th player in the past 40 years to have a triple-double with five blocks.

“He’s more than people think he is,” Udoka said. “I told him about expanding his game, the role, the minutes — everything increasing. What we see is a high, high ceiling from him for a lot of different reasons. …

“He’s a guy who has been resilient at bouncing back and rising to the challenge. I love that about him.”

Williams was moved by Udoka’s vote of confidence.

“S—, he’s believing a lot,” Williams said. “I guess he sees something in me I don’t. I’m thankful for the way he’s pushing me every day, trying to get that out of me I guess. But it’s just an honor to have him talking like that, but obviously it’s more I have to achieve if my coach feels like that.”

Advertisement:

3. Grant Williams (13 points, 6-for-11) and Romeo Langford (16 points, 6-for-10) put together solid performances as well. With the caveat — again — that there are plenty of reasons for pessimism still floating around the ether, one reason to buy the dip on the Celtics is that if Grant and Robert Williams continue on their current trajectory, they both will be excellent role players who complement Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown perfectly.

4. The anti-Marcus Smart crowd somehow gained steam while he sat out with an injury to his hand, but they were dealt a blow on Friday. After back-to-back losses in his absence, Smart returned with a vengeance: 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting with nine rebounds.

“He knows exactly what we want and who to get it to,” Udoka said. “He was great as far as that, got us some big buckets earlier in the third quarter. Just a steadying presence out there.”

Smart’s hand injury sounded painful — he and the training staff believe a piece of wood was sticking up from the floor when he dove after a ball during the Bucks game, because the cut didn’t look like floor burn. He showed reporters the cut, which hasn’t entirely healed.

“I probably should have got stitches when it happened, because it was right in that area where you can leave it and it was a really deep cut,” Smart said. “The day that I tried to test it out, I couldn’t catch a ball with it. It’s kind of hard to play with your dominant hand when you can’t catch a ball.”

Advertisement:

The Celtics missed Smart’s playmaking, and he was aggressive getting to the hoop on Friday — just two of his 18 field-goal attempts were 3-pointers.

“Guys kept their confidence and they kept fighting, kept trusting in one another,” Smart said. “So it was a much needed win for us.”

5. Jaylen Brown had an up-and-down game — just 8-for-20 from the floor with six turnovers in an increased role as a ball-handler, but he buried a crucial shot in the fourth quarter as the Suns rallied and finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Brown was asked if he enjoys being the primary player.

“It doesn’t always look fun, but it is fun in my opinion,” Brown said. “It’s a role that I haven’t been asked to play at no part in my career. So getting out there, accepting the challenge and figuring things out, I look at that as great. That’s exciting.

“Sometimes it doesn’t look as good, but when I figure things out, watch out. So I’m excited.”

Brown has a point: Even when he took on a star-level role previously in his career, he has rarely (if ever) been the primary offensive weapon. He’s averaging 4.2 turnovers in the last five games — up from 3.0 for the season — which looks bad. Throughout his career, though, Brown has improved quickly and significantly.

6. The Celtics have officially made it through December, which was easily the toughest month on their schedule and one of the toughest months on a Celtics schedule in recent memory.

Advertisement:

They didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory. The west coast road trip went poorly. They lost to the Sixers. They lost three games in a row that were all very winnable.

But now the schedule clears up a bit. Of their 16 games in January, 11 are against teams who are currently out of the playoff picture (at least without a win or two in the play-in scenario).

And hey, New Year’s Eve is all about optimism.

Here’s to 2022.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com