For the Celtics, Sunday’s win over the Wizards — a 144-102 beat the Wizards haven’t had since 2017 — was a highlight.
Construction began early in the year when the Celtics began buying and applying Ime Udoka’s defensive principles. It continued as the defensive principles showed up in the league’s best defense, which was once so dominant, the Celtics allowed less than 96 points per 100 possessions – a staggering total.
And now, as the buy-in continues, the Celtics are building another identity for themselves: Over the past few weeks, they’ve been one of the best offenses in the NBA.
“Offensive habits were harder to change,” said Ime Udoka after Sunday’s victory. “But guys understand who they are and that their teammates are relying on them for those shots, and I think it just takes a bit of time to continue to understand that you don’t have to make the play on two or three guys, trust your teammates, and it will open everything up for you. …
“Now [when] attack clicks in addition to playing high level defense, you are going to get those stunning results.
The Celtics had the second-best net rating in the league in January due to their stifling defensive rating of a league-best 102.9. In February, their defensive dominance continued to 101.4 and they claimed the highest net rating in the NBA.
In March, the defense was still strong, but it ranked second behind the Grizzlies. Instead, the Celtics maintained the best net rating in the NBA due to their offensive rating – a healthy 120.9, second only to the Hornets.
The Celtics have helped themselves considerably – in their last 15 games, even with a few high turnover outings, they have an elite assist-to-turnover ratio of 30.7 at 12.3. Both numbers will go in the right direction after Sunday’s game – the Celtics posted a season high with 39 assists and seven turnovers.
Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown seem to figure out how they can beat their opponents on the pavement. Brown had 32 points and five assists, while Tatum had 22 points and seven assists. Neither player reached the 30 minute mark.
“It wasn’t just Jayson who doubled up,” Udoka said. “[Brown] going to see crowds every night. When you score 24 or 25 points per game, teams are going to pick you up as well, so he’s improved a lot in that area.
2. Grant Williams has been one of the best 3-point shooters in the league this season, especially from corners, but he’s been slumping in recent weeks — 32.6% in the Celtics’ last 15 games.
He came out of that slump Sunday, scoring 16 points on 4-for-5 3-point shooting.
“One of those things where as a shooter, as a guy, it’s the first time I’ve been through it as much as this year,” Williams said. “So it’s just a matter of keeping faith, letting these things fly.”
Celtics stars need ground spacing from team players. White also continued to improve, going 3 for 3 from 3 and 6 for 7 from the field.
“Payton [Pritchard]To agree, [Derrick White], when they come out and they’re aggressive, that’s really important to our team and we need those guys to feel like they have the green light to do that, to be aggressive, and I’m proud of all of them those guys,” Brown mentioned. “They came in and really stepped up at the end of the season, and it’s been really good for us.”
3. Horford also helped – while he wasn’t as hot from 3-point range (2 for 6), he finished with six assists. Three went into transition after catching a rebound and coming up off the floor himself.
For Tatum and Brown, these games are particularly impactful. When Horford handles the ball, his defender is forced to recover it in transition. This either means he creates a lag because a guard is forced to stop him, or a big one is dragged to the 3-point line. When the big guys are away from the edge, Tatum and Brown can feast around the basket. Sure enough, all three of Horford’s transition assists were for either Tatum or Brown.
When people around the Celtics say Horford has an impact on all the little things, plays like this are a perfect example.
4. Brown, White, Pritchard, Williams and Aaron Nesmith all had three 3-pointers or more to help lift the Celtics to 23 overall. The Wizards finished just 8 for 23. A 15-mark 3-point spread certainly explains a 42-point win.
5. Brown was asked if the Celtics’ recent success could carry over into the playoffs.
“The defense travels, so that’s something we have to hang our hats on,” he said. “And without Rob we tried to figure it out and found different ways, and today was an example of that. We had a quarter where we gave up 37 but for the most part against a team that played very well yesterday , I think we limited them a bit.
“But as we play the next two games, I think defense is where we have to hang our hats, and that’s what’s going to travel into the playoffs and stuff like that. Hitting shots, being aggressive is also important, but getting saves is important.
Brown added that while others might have been negative about the Celtics at the start of the season, he was generally positive.
“If you think back to my comments at the start of the season, I never lost faith,” he said. “I know things seemed to be going badly, but I’ve always been optimistic. It’s relieving to be at this stage, where everyone is seeing what I’ve seen from the start.
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