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It’s not unusual for two basketball teams to combine for 30 points within the first seven minutes of a game.
What is unusual is when one of those teams is responsible for 28 of said points, while the other is responsible for just two.
In fact, there had never been a recorded instance of such a feat in NBA history until Tuesday night at Barclays Center, where the Boston Celtics got off to a 28-2 lead over the Brooklyn Nets before gliding to a 126-91 win. According to the TNT broadcast, it was the first time that a team has scored 28 of the first 30 points in a game since the NBA began tracking play-by-play data in 1996.
From the start, Brooklyn focused most of its defensive energy on Jayson Tatum. The Nets limited him to 19 points on 11 shot attempts, but in doing so, they opened the door for his teammates to score.
“We were locked in defensively, obviously, to hold them to 2,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “But also offensively, them going after Jayson, opening up some things for other guys, it seemed like that was the plan – to take it out of his hands. We got numbers on the backside. We got other guys that can obviously score when you have Jaylen out there to double off of Jayson is going to leave him wide open and he's making plays for everybody else. Jayson took the bait and got everybody else free buckets tonight."
Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart got several of those “free buckets,” as they tied for the game lead in scoring with 22 points apiece.
Brown stepped up right off the bat, scoring 12 of Boston’s first 24 points. Meanwhile, Smart heated up from 3-point range where he shot a season-best 6-of-13.
In the first quarter alone, Boston’s starters outscored Brooklyn’s starters with that familiar magic set of numbers: 28-2. The starting group’s advantage climbed to 58-10 by halftime and finished with an 84-21 tally over the Nets’ starters.
It could have been a trap game for Boston, considering how Brooklyn was missing its trio of stars in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. However, the Celtics went about their business as they have been throughout their season-best six-game winning streak by treating the depleted Nets like any other opponent.
“We wanted to take care of business early,” said Brown, who also logged seven rebounds and a game-high nine assists. “We didn’t want to play around, give them confidence and let them linger into the game. We just wanted to come out, do our job, get on up outta here, and move on.”
Udoka was especially proud of how his team handled its business on the defensive end, limiting the Nets to shooting clips of 38.4 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from 3-point range, while allowing only 13 trips to the foul line. It marked the seventh time in the last nine games that Boston held its opponent to fewer than 100 points, and all seven of those instances resulted in wins.
“It feels like we're connected,” Udoka said of his team’s defensive presence. “It feels like, at times, we engulf teams and suffocate them with our size and length and some of those things. It feels like everybody is taking the challenge and embracing it, embracing that mentality. When everyone comes out on the same page, you see a lot of first quarters where teams are scoring in the teens. That means we are coming out focused and prepared and doing it on that end, but also we saw how easy it translates to offense. When we are guarding like that and getting out in running, it's a much different ballgame than taking it out of the net and having to play in the half-court.”
Boston’s defense will be tested in its next game Friday night when it hosts a Denver Nuggets team that scored 83 first-half points Tuesday night during a 132-115 win over the New York Knicks.
And although the Celtics are riding a season-best winning streak into that matchup, Brown doesn’t want his teammates becoming complacent; he wants them coming out with the same type of fire that sparked their historic start against Brooklyn.
“It’s nothing to get happy about,” Brown said of Boston’s recent success. “We can’t lose our edge, can’t get comfortable, can’t get satisfied. We’ve got some big games coming up at home, and we're looking forward to those.”