C's Morale Continues to Climb After Thursday's Mauling of Grizzlies

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BOSTON – If you hadn’t bought into the Boston Celtics’ midseason turnaround, it’s time to start believing.

Thursday night’s mauling of the Memphis Grizzlies is the latest reason why.

Facing the NBA’s No. 3 team and the league’s hottest player in Ja Morant was supposed to be an arduous task, but Boston turned it into an exuberant beatdown filled with spectacular individual performances, selfless teamwork, and highlight plays galore.

Jayson Tatum poured in a team-high 37 points on his 24th birthday. Al Horford turned in his first 20-point, 15-rebound game in over three years. Marcus Smart dished out a career-high-tying 12 assists. Grant Williams continued his sharpshooting prowess by shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. And Rob Williams logged his sixth double-double in his last eight games.

Boston led the team with the NBA’s best record since Christmas for all but 22 seconds of action, in a near wire-to-wire victory that was achieved without second-leading scorer Jaylen Brown, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle. It also held Morant to 38 points on 13-of-29 shooting after he had scored 40-plus in three of his last four games, including a franchise-record 52-point effort in his most recent outing.

One win over a great team isn’t enough to generate belief. But 15 wins in an 18-game span should move the needle.

If that’s not enough, then consider this: Boston has now beaten 10 consecutive opponents that are currently in the playoff picture dating back to late January. Those victories include beating New Orleans, Miami, Charlotte, Brooklyn twice, Denver, Atlanta twice, Philadelphia, and now Memphis.

Such wins were hard to come by during the first half of the season, when the Celtics were dealing with health issues and injury woes. But in the second half, they’ve been a completely different team, Jayson Tatum has noticed.

“I think watching us now, we play with a lot more passion,” Tatum said when comparing the Celtics of the present to the Celtics of the past. “We just seem like we’re having a lot more fun.”

Basketball is a lot more fun when a team is clicking on both ends of the court. The Celtics had been rolling for several months on the defensive end and now finally, their offense seems to have caught up.

Al Horford could pinpoint exactly when their offense began to turn it around during their Dec. 31 win over the first-place Phoenix Suns.

Horford elaborated that head coach Ime Udoka designed some new offensive sets before that matchup, “forcing us to move the ball a little more and things like that. So we did that and we had a lot of success. I think Rob had a triple-double that game. And then from that point on, I feel like offensively it started to click to us how we wanted to play.”

Boston has improved its ball movement each month, and as a result, its record has improved as well.

Through the end of January, the C’s were ranked 20th in assists per game while holding a 27-25 record. In February, the dished out the fifth-most assists per game while posting an East-best 9-2 record.

They continued that trend into Thursday night, handing out 33 helpers on 46 made field goals, which marked their most assists in a regulation game all season.

“Defensively, I feel like we know who we are,” Horford said of his team, which boasts the best defensive rating in 2022. “On offense, I feel like we're continuing to find our identity and how we want to play and what we want to do. The more and more you start playing that way, it almost becomes second nature. We're not there yet, but I feel like we're making a lot of progress and it's going to be at the point that we're not even thinking about it and we're moving the ball, making the simple reads, and I feel like that's when we'll be at our best.”

When they’re moving the ball and getting everyone involved, it also makes the game more enjoyable.

“This is basketball at the end of the day, and it’s supposed to be a lot of fun,” said Tatum. “And we’ve been having a lot of fun lately.”

Having fun goes hand in hand with winning, of which the Celtics have been doing plenty over the past month-plus. And they’re not just beating mediocre teams; they’re beating the cream of the crop, just like they did Thursday night against Memphis.

It’s understandable if you were hesitant to buy into a team that had such an inconsistent first half as the Celtics did. But the second-half C’s bring an entirely different vibe to the court, as a team that constantly plays hard and is always fun to watch.

It’s a team that clearly believes in itself. And a team that you, too, should believe in by now.