The Celtics make the case to keep their core intact: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Kings

"I would like to see the stats that show up when our whole team is healthy."

Celtics Kings
The Celtics won in a laugher over the Kings on Tuesday, and in the fourth quarter, Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown had themselves a good chuckle near the Boston bench. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Let’s be clear at the outset the Celtics are not contenders after a blowout win against the spiraling Kings. They are a near-.500 basketball team that has disappointed often throughout the course of the season, and Tuesday’s monstrous 128-75 win could be a mirage.

But after jelly-legging their way to a 23-24 record, the Celtics showed signs of life. Jayson Tatum followed up his roaring 51-point outing against the Wizards with 36 against the Kings and effectively erased his streak of 20-straight misses.

Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown dropped 30 points and showed how potent the Celtics’ offense can be when he and Tatum are rolling together — Brown’s first basket was a 3-pointer off a kick-out from Tatum, and they never looked back (more in a minute). Robert Williams had the Kings seeing ghosts around the rim. Role players pitched in, although — as Josh Richardson put it — “it was kind of hard for us to mess that game up off the bench.”


The trade deadline is approaching, and Brad Stevens reportedly is actively looking for deals. Don’t be surprised if this roster looks a little different in a couple of weeks.

But if the Celtics want to stay together, games like Tuesday make a case to wait and see, even for just a little longer. When Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown play well together, the Celtics are virtually impossible to guard. When Rob Williams and Marcus Smart are healthy and productive, the possibilities start percolating in one’s imagination.

“I would like to see the stats that show up when our whole team is healthy,” Richardson said. “I think that we’re taking that step.”

The Celtics haven’t proven anything, but one can’t help but wonder if the tone shifted in discussions between Stevens and Mike Zarren after Tuesday’s game.

More takeaways

2. If — again, we cannot emphasize the word “if” enough — the Celtics take a step forward in the near future, Rob Williams’ contract could be the type of lucky break you often see as part of a perennial contender. Williams spent the first few seasons of his career often injured and foul-prone, but when he was on the floor, he showed incredible flashes that earned him a four-year, $48 million extension that kicks in next summer. Projecting out his per-36 stats felt overly optimistic, but it was an interesting exercise.


As it turns out, Williams actually is capable of producing some of the absurd stat lines his per-36 numbers suggested (albeit not every night). On Tuesday, the Kings were terrified of him around the rim, and he gobbled up 17 rebounds. Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, went out of his way to praise him after the game.

“I love when Rob plays,” Tatum said. “Obviously when myself and JB are out, other guys got to step up. But I just love when Rob plays.”


“When you’re driving in traffic and you gotta kick out, you can just throw it to the sky and he’ll catch it,” Tatum said. “You can pressure the ball a little bit more because you know if you get beat, he’s back there protecting. He’s just a lot more vocal now than in previous years and he’s always active.”

Williams is a potential star. Where his career goes from here will be fascinating, but his presence on the Celtics is an enormous boost.

3. It’s hard to ignore that the Celtics got Marcus Smart back in the lineup after COVID and injury absences and suddenly look like a good team again. Ime Udoka called Smart “a steadying force” after his second straight game with a +36 in the box score.


“His defense obviously is high level but also organizationally, getting us into things that we need, pushing it with pace, the pace we played out tonight was great, and he’s a huge part of that,” Udoka said.

Smart finished with seven assists and took just three shots (although, full disclosure, he missed all three).

4. Richardson was asked postgame how the Celtics were able to get into transition so effectively.

“I mean, first the Kings had a tough shooting night,” Richardson said. “I think that’s part of it.”

He is not wrong. The Kings shot just 29-for-95 (30.5 percent) from the floor overall and 6-for-33 (18.2 percent) from 3-point range. The Celtics’ defense certainly played a role, but we should stress once again that the Celtics were not playing the Warriors on Tuesday.

5. Could this be the start of a hot streak for Tatum?

“Hopefully I can keep it up,” he said. “Obviously it feels good to hit some shots.”

Tatum is a streaky player. That’s not pejorative: When he catches a heater, he becomes something like a top-5 player in basketball. His 3-point shot opens up his driving game, which further opens up his 3-point shot in a way that helpfully compounds for the Celtics.

Tatum noted that his recent cold streak might have even helped a little bit.

“It might have been a blessing in disguise when I couldn’t hit a 3,” Tatum said. “I still wanted to try to score, so just getting downhill a lot more during that stretch. And now just trying to put both of those together.”


Tatum and Brown have occasionally been an awkward pairing, but they looked natural on Tuesday — Tatum with his bully-ball tactics and crisp play in the half court with Brown spotting up, and Brown with his 3-point shooting and explosive work in transition. That combination might be a way to unlock their potential together: One player who takes over when the game slows down and another who thrives when it is played at his pace, both complementing the other.

Maybe this is premature and overly optimistic, and the Celtics are back to their old ways against the Hawks on Friday. But on Tuesday, with more than two weeks before the trade deadline, the Celtics looked great.

Maybe the core isn’t quite done yet.


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