Celtics Encouraged After Making Strides on 2-1 Road Trip

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The Boston Celtics hit the road this past week with a sense of urgency, looking to build some positive momentum following a 2-5 start. Two wins later, and one miraculous Luka Doncic buzzer-beater shy of a third, they find themselves returning home in a far better state.

Upon leaving Boston, the C’s had been struggling to find a consistent rhythm on the defensive end and Jayson Tatum had been experiencing some shooting troubles on the offensive end.

Both of those issues were resolved in a matter of four days.

First, the defense found the light during a back-to-back set in the Sunshine State. The C’s kicked the trip off with a 92-79 win over the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, which was followed by an even more impressive, 95-78 win over the first-place Miami Heat the following night.

It marked the first time since April of 2012 that Boston held two consecutive opponents to fewer than 80 points with the latter instance coming against the NBA’s top-ranked offense, nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the Celtics lost Jaylen Brown to right hamstring tightness toward the end of the Heat game, forcing them to head into Dallas shorthanded. But that’s also when Tatum snapped out of his shooting funk to deliver his most efficient outing of the season.

Stepping up to help fill Brown’s void, Tatum dropped 32 points against the Mavericks on 12-of-19 shooting from the field (63.2 percent), including 6-of-8 from 3-point range, after failing to reach the 50-percent mark in any of his previous five games. His 13-point third quarter helped Boston to overcome what had been a 19-point first-half deficit, until Doncic buried the C’s with a contested, off-balance, game-winning three at the buzzer.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the C’s completed their road trip with a sense of satisfaction, knowing the strides they had made.

“I would say overall that the effort on a night-to-night basis has been better,” said first-year head coach Ime Udoka. “Defensively, we’ve been more locked in.”

Admittedly, it took the Celtics some time to get used to Udoka’s switching defense. But they’re gradually gaining a grasp on the new system, as they showed throughout their trip to Florida and in the second half of the Dallas game.

“I think it’s an adjustment process for a lot of us, but I think it’s just slowed down for us, honestly,” Josh Richardson said following a 13-point effort off the bench Saturday night. “We’re doing smarter switches. We're not switching the fluff screen every time with the five, and it’s not just a size-up on our center every time down the court. That’s another point for encouragement, just seeing just how much better and more in sync we are on the defensive end.”

Meanwhile, Tatum was encouraged by how much better he played on the offensive end in Dallas after going through a rough patch. Although, he was never worried to begin with.

“I knew I was struggling on that end to play well and hit shots, but I’ve put too much time in and too much work to doubt myself or what I’m capable of,” Tatum said. “My teammates, my coaches and everyone we play knows what I’m capable of. You go through periods like that where things aren’t going the way you want them to go. You keep working and embracing it and figuring it out.”

The next thing the Celtics need to figure out is how to keep their positive momentum going as they return home Wednesday night to face the Toronto Raptors. Boston already dropped its home-opener to Toronto and lost its only two other games at TD Garden, as well.

However, the team feels like it is in a much better place after growing together on the road.

“I think we're a tough transition team now,” Richardson said. “I think that we got a lot of weapons and we're tough for teams to slow down once we get going. I think we showed that again tonight (in Dallas) and it's encouraging for sure.

“We're 4-6, it's still early,” added the veteran wing. “But my thing is, I want to get a few games, five games, hopefully 10 games over .500 as soon as possible. But right now, we just gotta keep solving the puzzle."

Piece by piece, it seems like the C’s are getting there.

“I'm really encouraged by the way we've played,” Tatum said. “I know our record doesn't show it. But with two double-overtime games, a buzzer-beater, we’re a couple of possessions from being 6-3 … It's tough to win on any given night but we've been progressing and playing the right way. Short a couple of guys tonight, but it was a good road trip, all things considered.”


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