BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were supposed to fly home from Milwaukee immediately following Thursday night’s 140-99 beatdown of the Bucks so that they could sleep in their own beds before taking on the Utah Jazz the following evening at TD Garden. However, their travel plans went about as sideways as Milwaukee’s defense did that night, as a delayed flight left them floating in Cream City for an extra 12 hours.
When the C’s finally touched down in Massachusetts early Friday afternoon, they had less than six hours to ready themselves before tip-off.
The situation was far from ideal, but rather than let the frustration of their disorderly return journey get the best of them, they used it as motivation, which later that night drove them to a 122-114 win over the visiting Jazz.
“Everything was kind of thrown off, but we looked at it as a challenge,” Jayson Tatum said of the experience, taking those words to heart by pouring in 39 points on the Jazz just 24 hours after dropping 40 on the Bucks. “I wasn't even really supposed to play today, but we were talking on the plane like, we were all in this together. We just wanted to go through it with the guys, rock out and play, and figure it out. And it was fun. It was fun figuring it out regardless of how the last 24 hours were. It was rewarding."
Marcus Smart detailed through those whacky 24 hours, specifically in the middle of the night when their travel and housing situation was hanging in the balance. He and most of his teammates had never been a part of something like this, as the last time the Celtics had to travel on the same day as a game was on Jan. 3, 2014, before he, the longest-tenured member of the franchise, was even drafted.
“It was weird,” Smart said. “We waited to try to get a pilot. Then we didn’t get a pilot. Then they told us there were no rooms and then we had to wait and try to get a room. Nobody knew exactly what was going on. Then when we finally figured it out, it was already 2 in the morning. So we get back and by the time we went to sleep, the adrenaline is still going. Now you’re up because you’ve got to keep moving around and you’ve got to be alert. It was a little difficult to go to sleep for some people, but that’s just part of it. It was definitely tough, but this is one of those games where you come out and it doesn’t matter, and you’ve got to fight through it.”
The C’s fought fairly convincingly throughout the game, including just after halftime when they went on an offensive tear to put them ahead by 17 points. Six different Celtics scored in double figures and only three guys that played in the previous night’s game rested (Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, and Rob Williams).
Blake Griffin was one of the main sparks, stepping into a starting role and logging six points, 12 rebounds, five assists, and one steal. It was his first double-digit rebounding game since Nov. 7, 2021.
“Blake is in that category,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla, “where any time we call his name, he brings a physicality and a joy and an energy that feeds off our team, and our team feeds off it.”
Mazzulla hopes that his team can also feed off what they learned from this less-than-ideal situation, through which they prevailed without complaint. He thinks going through something like this is particularly valuable with the postseason right around the corner, knowing that they’ll be up for some even greater challenges on the court in the near future.
“I trust their experience,” Mazzulla said of his team. “I think the most important thing is can you play really good basketball, be detailed and can you find different ways to win? Each game presents a different challenge so whatever we went through today is probably not going to be as hard as what the playoffs are going to be like, so I thought we did a good job handling it.”