BOSTON – There was no road-trip hangover for the Boston Celtics Thursday night, as they returned home from a six-game journey and turned in one of their most lopsided wins of the season.
Boston sped past the Indiana Pacers in a 120-95 win at TD Garden just two nights after dethroning the Kings, 132-109, in Sacramento, marking the first time all season in which they won by such a large margin (23-plus points) in consecutive games.
The one common denominator in those two games: Rob Williams was on the court for both.
Williams had missed eight games (during which the Celtics went 4-4) with a strained hamstring before returning to the floor in Sacramento. Right when he stepped foot on the hardwood, there seemed to be a positive shift of energy.
Coming off the bench in the last two games, Williams logged 10 points, 15 rebounds, three steals, and four blocks in 36 minutes of action. That included a four-point, eight-rebound, three-steal, three-block effort against the Pacers, during which he became the first player in Celtics history to record at least three steals and three blocks in a game while playing less than 20 minutes.
Jaylen Brown described Williams’ presence as game-changing and essential for the team's success.
“Rob is fantastic. Rob is the key,” said Brown after a 27-point, seven-rebound, four-assist effort. “We’ve just got to keep Rob healthy, keep his mindset strong, keep finding him when he gets to the basket. He’s such an impactful player on both ends of the floor, so anytime he’s out there, he makes our team a lot better.”
The Celtics excelled on the defensive end in both wins; first, holding Sacramento’s league-leading offense to under 110 points after it had logged 122-plus in a franchise-record seven straight home games, and then limiting the fast-paced Pacers offense to its lowest point total of the 2023 calendar year.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla observed that the team has been “making a conscious effort to building an awareness of who we are guarding, how much we can help and when we do bring help, we are bringing it with activity … Our active hands have been much better and that's something we've got to continue.”
Two of those active hands belong to Williams, who uses them to wreak havoc against opposing offenses.
“Rob’s essentially like a safety net,” said Jayson Tatum, who scored 34 points while becoming the first player in franchise history to record 40 30-point games in a season. “Knowing that you’ve got him protecting the rim, blocking shots, altering shots, deterring guys away from attacking, he helps us out a lot.”
Aside from Williams' defensive energy, the team has also been on an offensive tear, getting major contributions from Brown, Tatum, and Derrick White.
Tatum, in the last two games, has scored 70 points while shooting 66.7 percent (22-of-33) from inside the 3-point arc. Brown has poured in 54 points on shooting splits of 51.3 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from long range. And White has totaled 42 points, 21 assists, 10 3-point makes, and just one turnover.
Combined, those three have scored 166 points in just those two games.
Add that to the team’s collective defensive prowess, and it makes sense why the C’s have had no problem disposing of their last two opponents.
“We’re playing well,” said Tatum. “We’re sharing the ball, we’re getting shots, getting stops, and it builds confidence.”
With only eight games left until the playoffs, there couldn’t be a much better time to start redisplaying such habits. It also helps to be back near full health with the return of their “key” energy provider.