7 takeaways as Celtics look like themselves in big road win over Kings

"That looked like the team I recognize."

Celtics Kings
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum drives to the basket past Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox. AP Photo/Randall Benton

The Celtics closed their six-game road trip with a 132-109 victory over the Kings on Tuesday.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Does everyone feel a little better?

With a more reasonable amount of rest and a fully healthy roster, the Celtics looked re-energized and re-engaged taking on one of the better teams in the Western Conference (and the best team they faced on their road trip). The Kings were on the second night of a back-to-back and faded a bit down the stretch, but the Celtics moved the ball (33 assists) and made their 3-pointers as a result (40.9 percent). The stars looked like stars. The role players looked like stars in their roles. The defense looked significantly better.


Is it possible the angst surrounding the Celtics was a little too noisy? The Bucks went on their massive winning streak and took over first place, and the 76ers went on a big run recently as well. But the Celtics still have a head-to-head against the Bucks, and the Sixers have the toughest schedule remaining of any team in the league by winning percentage with a road trip on the horizon.

Meanwhile, both of the Celtics’ losses on this road trip had some mitigating circumstances. The team had just learned an assistant coach everyone liked was headed to the college ranks when they took on the Rockets, and they were exhausted and without three starters against the Jazz.

In the same way that it was reactionary to declare the Celtics doomed just because they lost to the Jazz on the second night of a short-handed back-to-back, it would be reactionary to declare them fully functional again just because they beat the Kings. But the way the Celtics played when fully rested and almost fully healthy is enough to shine a much more encouraging light on a 4-2 road trip.

“That looked like the team I recognize,” Jaylen Brown told Abby Chin in his walk-off interview. “We came out, we played 48 minutes, we didn’t take our foot off the gas, and we took care of business.”


2. The Celtics made 18 3-pointers on Tuesday. Of those 18, all but two triples — both by Jaylen Brown, both following tough dribbles moves — were assisted. Of the 16 remaining, 11 were a direct result of a paint touch. Meanwhile, six came from a hockey assist (a player passing directly to a player who directly picks up the assist).

A team can amass those numbers only when they move the ball at a high level. The Celtics’ offense was humming.

“If it wasn’t nine games before the regular season was over and if we weren’t in first place the entire year, and if this road trip was at the beginning of the year, and we were 4-2, everybody would be happy,” Joe Mazzulla said. “So we have to maintain a level of perspective and understand that this was a hard trip, and there were moments where we played really, really good basketball, and there were moments that we didn’t. I think we learned from that, and tonight we were able to put a full 48 minutes together.”

Mazzulla is right that the Celtics’ slump was poorly timed. The good news is that this close to the playoffs, a performance like Tuesday feels like it takes on extra significance too.


3. As has been the case often this season, Jayson Tatum was excellent as a scorer (36 points, 14-for-25 shooting), but not as a shooter. Tatum was just 2-for-7 from behind the arc, but he punished the Kings getting into the paint and scoring around the rim, as well as operating out of the post and in the mid-range.

The Celtics don’t need much mid-range scoring from Tatum, but his aggressive forays to the rim are helpful, especially when they cut out isolation 3-pointers.

4. In his return to the floor after suffering a hamstring injury, Robert Williams came off the bench to play 20 minutes and finished with six points, seven rebounds and a blocked shot. He didn’t provide spacing as a vertical threat like he has in the past and even his lone blocked shot was relatively ground-bound, but he did score a pair of field goals as an outlet for passers in the paint.

“Having Rob back makes a world of difference,” Tatum said. ” … It just makes us much more dynamic, I feel like — his presence. Even if he isn’t blocking shots, maybe he’s deterring people away from attacking the basket, giving us second and third-chance opportunities, and obviously a lob threat.”

5. On the day that a story on The Ringer caused a lot of consternation among Celtics fans about Jaylen Brown’s future in Boston, Brown dropped 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting. His All-NBA prospects (which greatly affect his contract negotiations next year) remain a little murky — partly because his position remains a little murky — but his recent stretch of play has him in the conversation.


6. Could Robert Williams continue coming off the bench for the rest of the season? Derrick White is certainly more than capable of holding down the fort if the Celtics would rather preserve Williams and start small — White finished with 20 points (6-for-11 shooting), 12 assists and seven rebounds. White even recorded more blocks (two) than Williams.

As important as Williams has been for the Celtics over the last two years, White — who hasn’t missed a game all year and played 75 last year — is much more available, which matters a great deal in the postseason. He has also played a crucial role in three of the Celtics’ best lineups.

7. In a nod to Mazzulla’s favorite topic of conversation, the Celtics dominated the margins — outscoring the Kings 56-38 in the paint and 17-5 on second-chance points.

The Celtics finally return home to take on the Pacers on Friday.


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