The Celtics expect to beat bad teams now: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Magic

"It doesn't really matter who we're playing. We've really been focused more on what we're doing lately."

Celtics Magic
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum looks for a way around Orlando Magic center Moritz Wagner. AP Photo/John Raoux

At one point on the NBC Sports Boston broadcast of a big Celtics win over the Magic on Sunday, the Magic trimmed the Celtics’ lead and longtime radio announcer Sean Grande — who is filling in for Mike Gorman on the current road trip — asked Brian Scalabrine if fans were getting a little tense.

Scalabrine didn’t think so.

“That’s in the past,” he said.

The Celtics seem to feel the same way. On Sunday, they blew out the Magic 116-83 — stifling the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Even on a slow night for Jayson Tatum (15 points, 6-for-18 shooting) and from the team at-large behind the arc, the Celtics got more than enough from Jaylen Brown (26 points) and Dennis Schröder (22 points) to take care of business.


Taking care of business matters, whatever Celtics naysayers might argue. Beating bad teams lifted the Celtics into a virtual tie with the Nets and Raptors in the standings, and they are impossibly 4.5 games out of first and 3.5 games out of home-court advantage. After months of blown leads and losses to bad teams, the Celtics seem to have suddenly found a groove. Few (if any) of their recent wins have come against good teams, but these were games the Celtics lost early in the season as players went in and out of the lineup.

Fully healthy, the lineups that showed so much promise are starting to pile up wins. You can yell that the Celtics’ starters are beating teams by double-digits, but when the team is losing, the numbers sound hollow. They gain more credence when the Celtics have won five first quarters in a row (all victories) and seven of their last eight (the one exception is their loss to the Hawks). The Celtics’ starters have outscored opponents by nearly 25 points per 100 possessions this season. In their last 10 games, the Celtics have the NBA’s best net rating in the first quarter at 25.7. The next closest? Milwaukee at 19.1.

After the game, Ime Udoka noted that the Celtics emphasize nameless, faceless opponents — a phrase that confused Jaylen Brown to no end when Boston Sports Journal’s John Karalis asked him about it.


“Say that one more time?” Brown said. “Nameless, faceless opponents? … Your guess is as good as mine, John, I don’t know what the f— you’re talking about.”

The implication, of course, is that the Celtics are focusing on themselves and not their opponents (“Okay got you, let’s roll with that one,” Brown said, when this was explained). Beating bad teams — and doing so with authority — is a good indicator that a team is back on track. How they fare against good teams is yet to be determined, but the fully healthy Celtics are building something.

More takeaways

2. Jaylen Brown had easily the Celtics’ best dunk of the year in the second half, a one-handed sledgehammer over Magic center Mo Bamba, who gamely (and unsuccessfully) tried to stop Brown’s powerful drive to the basket.

“I think I closed my eyes to be honest,” Brown said. “Just a great pass from Smart. Energy play for us, get us going. Get us on a nice little run and secure the win. It’s a regular day at the office.”

3. A potential next step for Tatum: Figuring out how to score around the basket against rim protectors. Bamba may have gotten dunked through the rim by Brown, but when Tatum’s shot failed him in the first half, he didn’t get much going at the basket with Bamba’s length as a deterrence.


Tatum found his stride in the third quarter and helped the Celtics pull away, and he finished with nine rebounds and seven assists, so he was productive, but beating rim protection on nights when he can’t find the range would be a big step.

4. The Celtics now have the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA, trailing only the Warriors, Suns, and Cavaliers at 105.5. Over the last 10 games, they have the best defensive rating by a mile at 98.5.

“You make the right passes and have an off-night, you can still rely on your defense,” Udoka said. “When we weren’t shooting well early in the year that was a mantra of ours, continue to build on our defense and stay consistent until the shots start falling. As you saw in the second half, our quarters went 21, 28, 29, 38, so we continued to play the right way.

“The shots will fall, but we stayed consistent defensively.”

5. Schröder’s name has cropped up in trade rumors, and the Celtics reportedly have multiple suitors pursuing him.

If he got to choose, Schröder — who noted that he has been hearing trade rumors for eight or nine years now — would rather stay.

“It is what it is,” Schröder said. “It’s a business, but I like the guys, the organization. I love them. So end of the day, when I go somewhere else, that’s how the business goes. But I love the guys here and if I’m staying here, of course that would be better.”


Schröder’s situation will be a tricky one — he adds scoring punch off the bench, and the Celtics might not want to mess with their recent success, but retaining his services would be nearly impossible after this year. If Brad Stevens can build a bidding war, getting some value might be worthwhile.

The Celtics take on the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.


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