The Celtics are making wins look easy: 5 takeaways vs. Nuggets

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown scored 30 points apiece (again).

Celtics Nuggets
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, left, looks to pass the ball to guard Marcus Smart. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Winning NBA basketball games is not easy, even if the Celtics — fresh off a 124-104 beatdown against the Nuggets — keep making it look that way.

On paper, Sunday’s game should have been a challenge. The Celtics played their third contest on a four-game road trip into the Western Conference, taking on the Nuggets at Denver’s altitude. The Nuggets were without two key players (Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.), but they have been without both players all season. Jokic was healthy.

None of it — the travel, the flights, the altitude — mattered much on Sunday. The Celtics used a huge second quarter to build a 25-point lead at halftime and sailed smoothly through the rest of the game. They got 30 points apiece from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who were a combined 9-for-16 from 3-point range and were typically deadly out of the high-screen pick-and-rolls — the impetus for most of the Celtics’ offense.


Meanwhile, the Celtics’ role players continued to shine — most notably Payton Pritchard (who we will get to). One of the better qualities of the Celtics during this run has been the perfect synergy between their stars and role players — Tatum and Brown make life easier for Robert Williams and Grant Williams, who in turn make life easier for Tatum and Brown, and the cycle continues.

“We’re doing it with other guys contributing who we need to,” Udoka said. “They’re finding their way as far as that. Starters are playing extremely well, getting off to great starts. But when the bench comes in, there’s no let-down. So that’s the main thing: Their contributions have been great. They’re all getting more comfortable and better and that’s why we’re really extending those leads, because there’s no drop-off when they come in. If anything, they’re extending the leads.”

In mid-December, if you said the Celtics would be 27-9 in their first 36 games of 2022, you would have gotten laughed directly off of your social media platform of choice. But the Celtics are playing essentially the same style of basketball as the mediocre team that started the season … only now their style of play works perfectly.

Other takeaways

2. As a shooter, playing with Jayson Tatum — especially when he’s on a stretch like his current one — looks almost relaxing. Here’s how Pritchard got his first open look from three (he made it).

Pritchard finished 5-for-5 from behind the arc and has made nine consecutive 3-pointers for the Celtics. Given how well he’s shooting off the catch, it isn’t much surprise how much better his fit has been for the Celtics than Dennis Schröder — a ball-dominant slasher.


3. After blocking Nikola Jokic and playing a solid defensive game, Grant Williams apparently sent Jaylen Brown into the media room with a message: He wants his nickname to be Batman.

Why Batman, exactly?

“I have no clue,” Brown said, sounding like a weary older brother. “Grant told me, ‘You got media today?’ He told me to come in and say that and tell them that Batman. So he did his job, so I’m here doing mine. I like Batman, y’all should call Grant Williams ‘Batman’ from now on.”

Tatum was similarly baffled (but less indulgent).

“Grant played great tonight but I’m going to call him Grant,” he said. “I’m not calling him no damn Batman.”

4. After the game, Brown tweeted that “winter always turns to spring” — a reference to both the spring equinox and the Celtics’ sudden resurgence.

“We just got to take it one game at a time, stay healthy, and then the sky is the limit,” Brown said. “Beyond this sky, to be honest. So I’m excited. We just have to take it one game at a time, that’s it.”

Brown has been a little overshadowed by Tatum over the last few weeks, but this road trip is a good reminder that the Celtics have a second star as well. While Tatum has added a power element to his game that was lacking last year, Brown looked increasingly comfortable probing the defense over the last two games. The continued progress between the two bodes well for the future.


“We still got a lot of room for improvement,” Brown said. “So don’t — yeah, just wait.”

5. Tatum summed up the Celtics’ recent success about as succinctly as possible after the game.

“There’s nothing that we go into the game trying to do,” he said. “It’s just playing the right way, moving the ball, and taking the shots that you’re supposed to take.”

The NBA is full of talented players, and the Celtics have plenty of them. But if the first few months of the season taught us one thing, it’s that playing basketball the right way matters nearly as much as talent — or at least, having talent only matters so much if you aren’t playing basketball the right way.

The Celtics have a chance to sweep their road trip, and they are now tied for third in the Eastern Conference after the Sixers blew a game against the Raptors on Sunday. Even though the talent on the team has stayed relatively consistent, everyone is now playing the right way and the Celtics are nearly unrecognizable.


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