Celtics

7 takeaways as Celtics annihilate Suns in showdown between contenders

"We are playing from our experiences. From the heartbreak. From coming up short."

Celtics Suns
Jaylen Brown drives between Cameron Payne and Chris Paul during the first half. AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

The Celtics turned what was expected to be a national TV showdown between contenders into a blowout, demolishing the Suns 125-98 to improve to 21-5 and 3-0 on their current road trip.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Okay then!

The Celtics won easily. Their lead stretched to double digits in the first quarter and ballooned to 27 at halftime and as high as 45 in the third. Suns coach Monty Williams pulled his starters before the end of the third. The Celtics’ bench took over in the fourth. Joe Mazzulla played Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown just 29 and 28 minutes respectively, which felt like at least five minutes too many. At no point was Wednesday’s game competitive after the Celtics’ initial flurry.

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So to recap: The Celtics have now beaten the top six teams in the Western Conference this season — the Pelicans, Suns, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Kings and Mavericks. They followed a loss to Miami with three wins on the road — gritty back-to-back victories against the Nets and Raptors, before Wednesday’s beatdown against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

The Celtics keep banking notable wins, with three notable road games against the Warriors, Lakers and Clippers on the horizon.

2. Brown continued an impressive stretch with 25 points on 9-for-24 shooting. He was aggressive early, and two of his biggest shots were a pair of and-one opportunities on which he was fouled by Devin Booker.

Booker picked up four first-half fouls total and a fifth in the third quarter, which felt like part of the reason the Suns came apart.

Over his last 10 games, Brown is averaging 28.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. After expressing some concerns about playing mostly off the ball earlier this season, Brown appears to be running a little more pick-and-roll, where he is deadly — per Synergy, Brown is 95th percentile as a ball-handler. Brown has become a deadly mid-range shooter, maneuvering around screens into comfortable space or spinning out of the post for fade-aways.

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Brown is making a strong case for an All-NBA nod (albeit an early one), and a no-brainer case for the All-Star team.

3. A reporter asked Brown how the Celtics maintain the humility to continue playing with force during a winning streak like this. Brown pointed out that losing in the NBA Finals is a deeply humbling experience — for the entire Celtics’ roster, last year’s trip to the Finals was their first. In the biggest moment of their careers thus far, they came up short in six games.

“I think we were all humbled,” Brown told reporters. “I think that’s part of our make-up as well, so coming in and understanding that kind of cultivates that force that you’re talking about, kind of brings forth that force that you’re talking about.

“Because we are playing from our experiences. From the heartbreak. From coming up short. And you’re seeing some of that be put forward into the season.”

Both Brown and Tatum were asked if they are playing angry this year. Neither said they were.

“I mean, I’m pissed off,” Brown said, adding “about everything, goddammit,” before breaking into a smile. “Nah, I’m just playing. We’re just playing basketball, taking it one game at a time.”

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“We’re 21-5,” Tatum told reporters. “With that comes a decision every night to play the right way, play as hard as we can on both ends.”

The Celtics seem to have found a healthy balance — not obsessing about last year’s defeat, but laser-focused on playing the right way to avoid feeling that way again.

“We’re having a lot of fun, but the goal is still the same – get back to the Finals and get over that hump,” Tatum said. “So while we’re having fun and happy with the way we’re playing, nobody in that locker room is celebrating or satisfied. We know where we’re at. None of this means anything if we don’t hang a banner.”

4. The Suns have had an odd week — they got Chris Paul back after a 14-game absence, but they were blown out by both the Celtics and the Mavericks since Monday. The Mavericks blowout was reminiscent of last year’s Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, when the Mavs embarrassed the Suns 123-90.

Tatum didn’t want to call Wednesday’s game a statement, partly because the Suns had “a tough night.”

“Phoenix was the No. 1 team in the West at the time,” Tatum said. “Their season isn’t over or anything like that. They’ll be fine.”

5. Malcolm Brogdon helped push the Celtics’ lead to double digits for the first time with eight quick points in the first quarter — two 3-pointers and a layup — and he took advantage of a badly outmatched Suns’ defense. Brogdon finished with 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

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“We got about eight guys that could probably start on any team,” Tatum said. [Derrick] White, Brogdon, those guys sacrificing coming off the bench. So I think that just speaks volumes to the commitment that we have to trying to be the best. To trying to play to our standard every night and win.

“That’s what we talk about before the game, halftime, win. By any cost, by any means, figure it out. Win the game, and build habits on the way to where we’re trying to get.”

6. Grant Williams — who had a great game with 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting — made an impressive defensive play in transition early in the third quarter, which earned him a congratulatory head smack from Jaylen Brown. It clearly hurt more than Brown intended.

“My bad, my bad,” Brown could be seen telling Williams afterward.

“I almost had to put my hands on you,” Williams tweeted at Brown after the game.

7. The Celtics aren’t trying to make a big deal of Saturday’s Finals rematch against the Warriors. After all, it’s a new season. The Celtics have been a historically good team through 25 games, and if the season ended now, the Warriors would have to win play-in games to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.

“For us, being honest, they beat us last year,” Tatum said. “They won a championship and we lost, so they got that over us, and we understand that. Obviously we want to go in there and continue to build off what we’ve been doing, and go in there and get a win, but grand scheme of things, it’s just one game, so it’s not going to make or break whatever we’re trying to accomplish once the game is over with.”

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Still, as Tatum put it: “Obviously, it’s probably a big deal, and everybody is going to make it a big deal.”

He’s right. Even if it doesn’t make or break anything in the grand scheme, Celtics vs. Warriors is a big deal on a Saturday in December. The rematch tips off at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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