The Boston Celtics have proven to be very difficult to beat when they play with aggression from the opening jump. Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers, who have learned that lesson twice in the last nine days.
A week and a half after downing the Blazers by 22 points at home, Boston took it to them again for the majority of Friday night’s rematch in Portland. The Celtics applied pressure on the rim throughout the first three quarters before depositing a 126-112 victory into their win column.
Aggression was undoubtedly the name of the game for the C’s. They capitalized on their physical and skill advantages and refused to settle, which fueled them to a 21-point lead during the third quarter. Boston’s consistent offensive pressure regularly led to three things: high-percentage shots in the paint, free throw attempts, and quality 3-point shots.
That’s a recipe for success, and on this night, Boston took advantage of all three.
Led by Jayson Tatum’s 15 points during the opening frame, the Celtics scored eight points in the paint, earned 12 free throw attempts, and canned four 3-pointers while piling up 32 points over the first 12 minutes. They put up these numbers despite shooting just 39.1 percent from the field during the opening frame.
This style of offense set the tone for the remainder of the night.
Tatum himself accounted for 18 free throw attempts during the game and Boston made 29 of its 35 attempts from the stripe as a team. The Celtics also drilled 15 3-pointers while outscoring Portland in the paint by a count of 50-38.
This contest felt a whole lot like the teams’ first matchup March 8 in Boston, when the Celtics also jumped out to an early lead behind aggressive offensive play. They scored 35 points during the opening frame of that contest and went on to finish with 115 on the night on 47.7 percent shooting. Boston also outscored Portland 44-34 in the paint during that game while canning 18 triples and attempting 20 free throws.
These two victories over the Trail Blazers have provided further evidence of just how difficult the Celtics are to beat when they attack from the onset of the game. There aren’t many NBA teams that are equipped to compete Boston’s talent at both ends of the court, particularly when the C’s are dictating the pace of play both on offense and on defense.
An additional bonus to Boston’s aggression, as it was reminded Friday night, is that it’s never a bad thing to build a comfortable lead in an NBA game. There’s an old saying in the league that “every team makes a run,” and Portland did just that during the fourth quarter.
Behind Damian Lillard's 25-point fourth quarter, the Trail Blazers whittled what was once a 21-point, second-half lead for Boston all the way down to eight with 2:39 left in regulation. The Celtics, however, had built enough padding to remain in a comfort zone before scoring five straight points to put the game away.
Boston knows full well that it is going to have nights when it doesn’t shoot the ball well either as individuals or as a team. The remedy for that is to always play with aggression.
Take Tatum on Friday, for instance. He made only eight of his 20 shot attempts yet still finished with a team-best 34 points because he relentlessly attacked the basket. His drives not only led to 10 points in the paint and his 18 free throw attempts, but they also created many open shots for his teammates.
The moral of this story is that Tatum and the Celtics have what it takes to control almost any game from the opening tip, regardless of how well they shoot the ball. Their two victories over the Trail Blazers in a span of nine days are clear and present reminders of that fact.