C's Crush Sixers by 48 Points, Setting Several Records in The Process
On Jan. 14, the Boston Celtics played a forgettable road game in Philadelphia. They got blasted out of the gates, as the 76ers outscored them 32-14 in the first quarter and 55-35 in the first half, before eventually walking away with a 111-99 win, during which their starting group outscored Boston’s starters 90-59.
However, the loss was not forgettable for Boston’s players. It remained stuck in the backs of their minds leading all the way up to Tuesday night's rematch in Philly, where they showed the 76ers just how far they have come in the past month.
This time, it was the Celtics who got off to a fast start, building a 32-22 lead after one quarter and a 69-42 lead by halftime. They kept their foot on the gas pedal all throughout the second half before walking away with a 135-87 win, marking the largest margin of victory of the rivalry’s storied history, as well as their ninth straight in the win column.
Boston also set an NBA record with their third straight road win by at least 30 points.
Despite missing Rob Williams for the whole game due to a calf strain and despite losing Marcus Smart in the second quarter due to an ankle sprain, Boston’s starters outscored Philly’s starters 82-40. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 57 of those points even though neither of them logged more than 30 minutes.
Boston also held back-to-back Eastern Conference Player of the Month Joel Embiid to just 19 points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field, marking his first sub-25-point game in exactly two months.
“This was a game that we all talked about,” said Brown, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. “We wanted this one and we came out and got the job done.”
They got the job done on both ends of the floor, recording their third-highest scoring game of the season while also holding their opponent under 90 points for an NBA-leading ninth time.
Boston shot the ball at an extraordinary clip, knocking down a franchise record of 25 3-pointers on 45 attempts.
Brown has noticed that the team has been shooting at a much more efficient clip in general of late, which he attributes to their increased pace and improved spacing.
“I think that was the emphasis for us was getting the right spacing,” Brown said. “That makes it easier to make plays. We were on top of each other before. That’s what made it easier to turn the ball over. I think [head coach Ime Udoka] was emphasizing spacing more than anything, and I think that’s really what I attribute to improved playmaking for our whole entire team.”
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers agreed that Boston looked like an entirely different team on the offensive end compared to how it played during their last matchup. To his point, the Celtics were ranked 24th in assists per game from the start of the season through Jan. 14 and since then, they’re ranked eighth leaguewide in that category.
“They just beat us all night off the dribble,” said the former Celtics head coach. “They got into the paint, and they moved the ball. That's the one thing, you watch Boston play, and you can literally see the improvement of their ball movement. The old Boston was more isos, this Boston is driving and playing with each other. That's what makes them so much tougher. I think it makes Tatum and Brown even tougher when they move the ball like that.”
Tatum says that the team has focused on trying to get out in transition more after being one of the worst fast-break teams through the end of December.
“Even simple stuff like myself or somebody getting the rebound, just kicking the ball ahead, I think we've emphasized that a lot,” said Tatum, who logged the game’s only double-double with 28 points and 12 rebounds to go along with six assists, and two blocks. “Even if it don't always lead to transition or a fast-break, just kick the ball ahead, put a little pressure on the defense, then we get set. And I think something as small as that that, everybody has bought into, taught us to play with more pace and everybody can be just a little more involved.”
What impressed Udoka was how his team didn’t let up no matter how large their advantage became.
Boston had surrendered several substantial leads throughout the early part of the season, but lately, they have been maintaining their big leads.
On Tuesday, they piled it on, turning a 69-42 halftime advantage into a 101-58 lead after three quarters. By then, the Celtics had discouraged the Philly fanbase to the point where Wells Fargo Center had become an echo chamber by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
“To see the crowd leave in probably the third quarter is an impressive thing for us and I think our team relished that,” Udoka said. “What I was impressed with was, after a big lead in the first half, coming out and holding them to 16 in the third quarter. There was no let up as far as that. And like I said from the start of the year, to have that road warrior mentality, it will help us as a group overall.”
The Celtics were far from being considered road warriors the last time they left Philly, having posted an 8-14 mark away from home up to that point. But since that loss, they’ve been the best road team in the Eastern Conference, winning six out of seven away games over the past month.
Such a significant turnaround can be attributed to their improved ball movement, spacing, and transition offense, as well as the relentless force with which they are playing of late.