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BOSTON – Seeding games are about more than just the standings and shaking off the rust. They can prepare teams for tight playoff games, which is exactly what has happened for the Boston Celtics through their first two games.
Boston is now 2-for-2 in playing tight seeding games that went down to the wire and required critical plays down the stretch in order to win. Sunday afternoon against Portland, they made every play they needed to make while logging a win. Friday night, they came up just a couple of plays short against Milwaukee.
Brad Stevens said of the two experiences, “These are really valuable … That was a playoff-level energy that we had to play with at the end of the game.”
There is no better way to prepare for the postseason than that.
Such is the case during any normal season, but these types of tight games are especially valuable right now. Boston and the other 21 teams inside the NBA’s bubble have only eight opportunities to prep for the Playoffs. Every game, especially ones which require crunch-time execution, is an important step toward being prepared for a potential playoff run.
This tight contest added to their rolodex of experience to reference when the lights shine even brighter during the Playoffs. It was far more valuable to them than a blowout win would have been.
“We have a young team, but we don’t have time for young mistakes,” said Jaylen Brown, who made multiple clutch plays during the fourth quarter while scoring 30 points on the afternoon. “So we have a lot of growing up in a short amount of time to do it in, and the hiatus didn’t help. So we gotta continue expediting that learning curve, and tonight, I think, kinda helped that.”
The Celtics were dominant during the first half of Sunday’s matchup with Portland and appeared to be on track for a breezy victory. They pulled ahead by as many as 24 points while shooting a red-hot 56.1 percent from the field during the first half.
But as will be the case with any of Boston’s upcoming playoff opponents, the Trail Blazers are loaded with talent and wouldn’t go away quietly.
Damian Lillard caught fire during the second half, scoring 22 points to lead Portland back into the game. He and Jusuf Nurkic each scored 30 points on the afternoon while their teammates combined to fire in 13 more 3-pointers.
Portland actually gained a four-point lead with 7:36 remaining in the contest, pushing Boston’s collective back against the wall. The C’s answered by having their dynamic duo of stud wings, Brown and Jayson Tatum, combine to score 24 points during the fourth that were highlighted by multiple clutch plays down the stretch.
They connected on the most important play of the game, when Tatum drew the attention of four Portland defenders and kicked the ball out to the right corner to an open Brown. Brown caught the ball, locked, loaded, fired and drained a 3-pointer to double Boston’s lead up to six with 32.3 seconds left on the clock.
This play was a perfect example of two young players shaking off the pressure of a tight game and delivering for their team in the clutch.
“We’ve got some decent amount of playoff experience,” Tatum said after the game of he and Brown. “We’ve been in some big games, in big moments, and (we’re) two very, extremely confident guys that want to be out there and want to make plays.”
They, along with their teammates, made all of the clutch plays they needed to make down the stretch in order to pull out a win Sunday afternoon. Couple that effort with Friday’s tight defeat at the hands of the East-leading Bucks, and the Celtics are giving themselves some valuable experience ahead of a title chase that will ensue later this month.