By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A rusty Celtics team got off to a 1-2 start in the NBA bubble, causing a little bit of concern that the Boston basketball team wouldn’t be playing into late September/early October. How silly that was.
With Tuesday’s 122-107 drubbing of the Memphis Grizzlies — a team hungry for a win to stay in the playoff hunt — Boston has now won four straight. They’ve averaged 129 points per game over those four victories, including a 149-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets. The C’s most impressive win of the stretch was a 122-100 blowout over the Raptors, which is Toronto’s lone loss in the bubble.
Yeah, the Celtics are ready for the postseason. A frustrating loss to the Bucks and an embarrassing defeat to the Jimmy Butler-less Heat are reminders that the Celtics are still far from perfect. But if they continue to play the way they have over the last week, the Celtics will be playing in the East Finals next month, with a decent chance to represent the conference in the NBA Finals.
“I think we’re ready,” Jayson Tatum said following Tuesday’s win. “Obviously, we continue to get better, and I think we have from Game 1 playing down here to now. I think we just continue to get better each and every game, and that’s what you want this time of year, to continue to get better at the right time of the season.”
Against the Grizzlies, Tatum looked like he did back in February, dropping a game-high 29 points for Boston. He had his full array of moves going, from a viciously consistent step-back jumper to his long-range strike. He shot 10-for-13 overall and 4-for-5 from deep. In other words, when Tatum wanted to score, the Celtics were going to get points.
Tatum is the team’s stud, but Boston is at their best when its a balanced attack on offense. Such has been the case the last four games, and on Tuesday, the C’s had six guys score in double digits. Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker both scored 19 points. ‘Stache’ Gordon is averaging 20 points in bubble play while hitting nearly 50 percent of his shots. Walker said Tuesday was the best he’s felt since getting to Orlando, and his minutes restriction will soon be a thing of the past.
Marcus Smart and Enes Kanter each scored 11 off the bench, with secret weapon Robert Williams adding 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes. Jaylen Brown cooled down and contributed just seven points on 3-for-13 shooting, but Boston’s balance allows the team to survive when one of its usual contributors has an off night.
Boston’s offense appears effortless when they move the ball around like a hot potato. They racked up 29 assists on 44 made baskets Tuesday night, and are averaging 25 assists per game in the bubble. In each of their two losses, Boston failed to hit 20 assists.
“Hopefully we can just keep getting better,” head coach Brad Stevens said after Tuesday’s win. “The way the ball has been moving has been good and guys are covering for one another, but we know that we have less than a week or maybe a week before we open a playoff series, so we better be getting good.”
The three-seed in the East is all sewn up, so the Celtics have the luxury of resting starters in Thursday afternoon’s regular season finale. Boston will likely face the Philadelphia 76ers when the first round begins next week, and though the 76ers were a matchup nightmare for the Celtics during the regular season — taking three of their four matchups — Philly is a mess again. They’re down their leader in Ben Simmons, who is out for the playoffs after undergoing surgery this week, and Joel Embiid’s status is in question after the big man suffered a knee injury. Suddenly, that daunting first-round showdown doesn’t appear so disconcerting.
Then again, if the Celtics continue to play their brand of basketball, it may not matter who they play.