The Celtics went into the All-Star break on a high note.
The Celtics claimed a comfortable 127-109 win over the Pistons on Wednesday, sending themselves into the All-Star break on a high note.
Here are the takeaways.
1. Marcus Smart wasted absolutely no time putting together a perfectly Marcus Smart stat line. In his return from a nasty ankle sprain, Smart reminded Celtics fans what they have to look forward to when basketball returns with nine points, six assists and six steals — several of which showcased his quick hands and lightning-quick thinking as a defender.
“It felt like something was missing in my life,” Smart said. “So it feels real good to be back out there with my team, my coaching staff and just the energy that we brought.”
The Celtics looked visibly more comfortable with their floor general on the court. Derrick White has held things down well (and showcased a much higher ceiling than many expected), but Smart’s pass-first offense and high-IQ defense were badly missed.
“I think we missed a lot,” Joe Mazzulla said. “We missed his joy. He brought a level of joy to the game tonight. He brought a connectivity and a trust on a defensive end to where because of the way he plays, it just breeds energy and everybody plays that way. And on the offensive end, while he was out Derrick and Malcolm made it a recommitment to the first eight seconds of the shot clock, and tonight Smart joined in on that. And he did a great job finding that crossmatch early, and finding that advantage early. But it starts with the joy and his energy, I think.”
Smart said his ankle felt good.
“I had a couple possessions where I was a little scared to try because of how fast or a certain movement it was,” he said. “Once I did it, it felt fine and the confidence was there.”
2. Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 38 points, which included a monstrous third quarter — a career single-quarter high of 24 points, which included 6-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. For the game, Tatum finished 15-for-24 from the field and 6-for-10 from deep.
“I’ve got the 3-point contest coming up so I’m trying to get myself ready for that,” Tatum said. “Because I’m trying to win. Flat out.”
Down the stretch, Tatum appeared to be gunning for 40 points, but the Pistons defended him well on his final possessions, and Joe Mazzulla ultimately pulled him (to Tatum’s apparent displeasure).
3. Playing with a ruptured ear drum and a fat lip, Derrick White still managed to put up 11 points and six assists with Smart back in the lineup.
White had a chaotic day. He saw a doctor at 9:30 a.m., who cleared him to fly, then drove with a friend to Chicago where he caught a flight back to Boston. The flight from Chicago landed at 4 p.m., so he immediately headed to the arena where he joined his team and played in Wednesday’s game even though he needed to tell NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin which side to stand on for his halftime interview.
“I mean, I can hear,” White said. “It’s just, it feels like everything’s like lower than the volume. [But] I can hear pretty well.”
White said his ear didn’t hurt on the plane, and his only real restriction is deepwater snorkeling, so he plans to stay away from the pool.
Does that ruin his All-Star break plans?
“No, that helps my break plans,” White said. “I’m not a good swimmer.”
4. Malcolm Brogdon is on a tear in his last five games, shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from 3-point range. On Wednesday, he shot 10-for-14 overall and scored 25 points to go with six assists.
It’s hard to overstate how positive Brogdon’s impact has been so far. The Celtics hoped he could shoot better than last year, and he has topped that mark by far. The Celtics hoped he would thrive in a bench role, and Brogdon is the Vegas favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year. The Celtics hoped he could provide additional depth, and Brogdon is averaging 14.7 points per game. He has topped 20 points 10 times.
“I think we’re in a strong spot,” Brogdon said. “I thought we finished the break the way we should have. We wanted to win that game yesterday in Milwaukee of course, but we played a really good game. But we came out tonight and took care of business and these last 10 games heading into the All-Star break we didn’t have any slippage, and that’s the key. Finishing strong, finishing with the best record, and more importantly finishing playing the type of basketball we want to play.”
5. In a weird moment postgame, Mazzulla admitted that he slipped up with his rotations, which was why Payton Pritchard received a DNP-CD.
“That was a mistake on my part in the sense of like, it’s one of those moments where you just don’t know how to handle the last two minutes to a minute and a half,” Mazzulla said. “And so it was just kind of like, I really didn’t know what to do, and that was just on me. There’s nothing to read into it I just — I don’t know if there’s a right answer there.”
6. Blake Griffin is up to 15.8 minutes per game in his last five games, including 28:46 against his former team on Wednesday. Griffin can still score a little bit, particularly from three when teams ignore him, and he plays incredibly hard for a former-superstar-turned-role-player.
That came on the heels of Griffin’s impressive performance for the very short-handed Celtics against the Bucks on Tuesday that left Tatum impressed.
“I texted the group, told them I loved the way they competed,” Tatum said. “I hated not being there, but I told them I really enjoyed watching them play. It was really fun to see the way those guys competed, the way they played together. I know there was a lot of talk about who wasn’t playing, who was missing, but I had all the faith in those guys to win the game from the start.”
7. How excited is the notoriously stoic Mazzulla to coach the All-Star game?
Actually, more excited than the last time he was asked.
“I’m definitely going to enjoy it,” Mazzulla said. “Our job is done, we have time to relax. I’m definitely excited about the opportunity, and like I’ve said a couple of times, I’m excited for what it represents from the players and the staff and the organization. And I am excited to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Tatum reiterated that he never wants to take All-Star Weekend for granted.
“Each year as Deuce gets older the more he can enjoy it as well and participate in things with me and remember the weekend,” Tatum said. “So that’s the coolest part.”
The Celtics return to action next Thursday.
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