Boston Celtics aim for strong start after the All-Star break

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports /

The luster of the solid play from the last six weeks for the Boston Celtics wore off slightly with a disappointing loss to the Detroit Pistons last Wednesday.

The Celtics saw a nine-game winning streak snapped in a game they were a step slow, undermanned, and not quite in rhythm.

Luckily, the All-Star break arrived and the Celtics had plenty of time to put this loss behind them. At 34-26, the Celtics are in 6th-place in the Eastern Conference, 4.5 games back from the top spot. Boston has 22 games left to secure a playoff spot, stay healthy, and make sure the excellent team play wasn’t simply a mirage. (And maybe find a key veteran to add to the bench as well).

Boston Celtics: The surprising week that was

The final three games prior to the All-Star break for the Boston Celtics brought intrigue, pure elation, and halted happiness.

Boston began the week by finally swatting away the Atlanta Hawks. Two previous losses and a first-half deficit of 10 points made it look like the Hawks simply had the Celtics number this season.

Then Jayson Tatum happened, propelling a second-half surge to lead Boston to a 105-95 victory. Tatum finished with 38 points and 10 rebounds in the game, delivering time-after-time on offense and helping slow down Atlanta’s star guard, Trae Young, in the middle quarters.

Tatum also put forth an outstanding effort the following game as well. The Celtics ran over, through, and around the Philadelphia 76ers. A hot-shooting first quarter had the Celtics up 10 after one and they never looked back. The lead swelled to 27 at the half, 43 after three quarters, and Boston finished off Philadelphia 135-87.

Playing only 30 minutes, Tatum finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists. Jaylen Brown had a 26-point first half — finishing with 29 — and Aaron Nesmith chipped in 18 off the bench.

Boston was 25-45 from three-point range in this game. Surprisingly, this victory was with no Robert Williams III (calf tightness), and Marcus Smart left the game in the first-half due to an ankle injury.

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Both Smart and Williams were absent in Wednesday’s loss to the Pistons, continuing to prove their worth to the team. Smart especially is a key to how Boston’s season plays out. He’s always been a leader and a stalwart on the defensive end but his improved decision-making on offense has made a huge difference.

The Celtics are 3-7 this season when Smart doesn’t play. Depth is an issue at the guard position when Smart is out. Newcomer Derrick White has fit in nicely and will likely continue to start in Smart’s absence. This means either Nesmith or Payton Pritchard (or both of them) will need to step up.

Hopes are that Smart isn’t out long term. With a slate of important Eastern Conference games on the horizon, his presence is very much needed.

The week ahead for the Boston Celtics

On Thursday (2/24), the Celtics get in back in action with the first of three straight road games. It’s the familiar foe Brooklyn Nets first up on the post All-Star break schedule. Boston is 1-1 against the Nets in 2021-22, with results on opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first game was a 19-point loss by Boston but they turned that around earlier in February. The Celtics took care of business against what was essentially Brooklyn’s ‘B’ squad, winning by 35. Four starters reached double figures in that game, and all played under 30 minutes in the contest.

That game was prior to the trade deadline so each team will have slightly different looks. Injuries could play their part for both sides. While it’s possible Boston faces a similar Brooklyn team as the last meeting, the Nets could also have Kevin Durant return from injury.

The road trip continues as Boston travels to face the Pistons on 2/26.

Finishing the week up, the Celtics take on the Indiana Pacers on 2/27. Boston is 2-0 against the Pacers this season, defeating them in back-to-back games in mid-January. Brown averaged 28 points in those two contests.

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As we’ve seen this season, from Boston and many teams across the NBA, nothing is a given when playing quality of opponents. Even if Smart and Williams remain out, Boston has a strong chance in beginning this stretch run 3-0. Take nothing for granted, but if healthy, this team can rise to the upper third of the league. Time for them to put that on full display.