The NBA playoffs are a little over two weeks away and the Boston Celtics made sure to remind the rest of the field that they are in it to win it all.
Jayson Tatum led Boston to a lopsided 140-99 win over the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks with the 22nd 40-point game of his career. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Bucks, albeit the size of the Celtics’ winning margin was inexcusable.
The 25-year-old Tatum now has the second most 40-point games in Boston’s franchise history, though he still has a ways to go before overtaking Larry Bird for the top spot.
Tatum hit eight three-pointers in the contest and wound up hitting 12 of the 18 field goals that he attempted. He made all eight of his free throws as well and also had eight rebounds, an assist, and no turnovers.
Jaylen Brown had a strong performance too, hitting 13-of-20 shots to finish with 30 points, three three-pointers, five rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one turnover.
After falling short in last season’s NBA Finals, the pair of Tatum and Brown have emerged as the highest scoring duo in this campaign based on total points scored. They have tallied at least 30 points in the same game on 12 occasions this season which is the first time any pair of teammates has done this in 20 years.
Besides their NBA All-Star duo, the rest of the Celtics’ rotation pieces had solid performances to boot. 36-year-old starting center Al Horford finished with 14 points, four three-pointers, four rebounds, and three assists while reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart had 10 points, two three-pointers, four rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and zero turnovers.
Meanwhile, leading NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon added 14 points, three rebounds, five assists, and four steals in his usual reserve role. Robert Williams III made an impact as well with seven points, seven rebounds, an assist, a steal, and four blocks–one of which was an emphatic rejection of Milwaukee’s superstar Giannis Antetokunmpo.
While Boston has not been able to reclaim first place in the East standings after relinquishing it to these Bucks in late February, they can take consolation in the fact that they won their season series, 2-1. What is even more encouraging is that the Celtics’ two wins were by over 21 points compared with Milwaukee’s lone triumph–a six-point victory last February where both Tatum and Brown sat out.
The scoring exploits of Tatum and Brown may garner all of the attention for Boston, but it is their defense and depth that ultimately make this team a leading contender.
If they are to make a return trip to the NBA Finals and eventually get over the hump to win the title, their defense will have to hold up throughout the postseason and each member of their team must be ready on any given night. Last year, their offense broke down when Tatum and Brown struggled in the NBA Finals which was a major reason for their acquisition of Brogdon.
These next few months will not be easy for the Celtics with the East tougher than it has been in years. They should expect the Bucks to put up much more of a fight if they wind up crossing paths in the Eastern Conference Finals, though they presumably need to survive the Philadelphia 76ers first in the second round.
It is unwise to put too much weight on the results of this contest, yet it should at least serve as validation for Boston that they are on the right track on this long and winding journey to the NBA championship.