Boston Celtics: Winning ways, stingy defense continue out west

Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard (11) Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

If the old maxim “defense wins championships” proves to be true, the Boston Celtics will be in line to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this June.

The right mix of stellar play on defense and valuable minutes from the bench — in addition to the usual crew — were in full effect Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets. A tight game in the early minutes of the second quarter turned into rout by the end of the frame, fueled by a Celtics 24-4 run to close out the quarter.

This was more than enough as the Boston Celtics rolled to victory once again, this time defeating the Nuggets 124-104.

In taking the first three games of a four-game west coast road trip, the Boston Celtics continued their dominance with wins over the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings (in addition to Denver). Boston was able to move into fourth-place in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Chicago Bulls and 3.5 games behind the first place Miami Heat with 10 games left to play.

Plus, the week marked a return to form of Jaylen Brown.

The Boston Celtics standouts of the week

Brown had struggled with his shot as of late, but turns out a trip to the west coast was just what the doctor ordered.

After locking in for 26 points against the Warriors, Brown delivered 30 each against the Kings and Nuggets. His field goal percentage found the sweet spot, connecting on 55.2 percent of his shots while going 8-19 from deep.

It’s good to see the slump wasn’t an extended one. Like much of the team, Brown struggled early in the 110-88 victory over Golden State. But since then, he has been back to his old self.

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Another player (hopefully) back to his old ways is Payton Pritchard. Pritchard took the league by storm early in his rookie season and was a fine fit for this Celtics team. He struggled in the back half of last season and had to battle for playing time heading into February this season.

Since then though, Pritchard has seen his minutes increase and played one of his best stretches of the season last week. Pritchard averaged nearly 14 points point per game, in less than 20 minutes per game. He connected on 11-15 from three-point range and also had 10 assists. The second-year guard, in nine games in March, has committed only two turnovers.

Pritchard capped off the week with a 17-point performance against Denver, hitting all six of his field goal attempts, five of which were 3’s.

These two players coupled nicely with the usual standard of high-level play from Jayson Tatum. Tatum, like Brown, scored 86 points in the last three games.

Solid bench play has also been a plus and will be needed again as the Celtics embark on what could be a challenging week.

The Boston Celtics upcoming week

More foes from the Western Conference are on the agenda for Boston, with a chance to get back at teams who delivered the Celtics early-season losses.

Boston was dealing with a lot of lineup changes those early months. While they are 1-2 against their three opponents this week, Boston is playing at an entirely different level than they once were.

Up first is the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday (3/21). Boston defeated OKC 111-105 back in November, a game in which neither Brown or Robert Williams III played. Tatum had 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists that game while Al Horford had 10 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists.

Horford had a fine game, too, against this week’s second opponent. Boston returns home to face the Utah Jazz on 3/23. The Jazz defeated the Celtics 137-130 in early December.

With no Brown again for that game, Horford had arguably one of his best games of the season. He scored 21 points and added nine assists. Tatum had 37 points that game as well.

Closing out the week, the Celtics host the Minnesota Timberwolves on 3/27. Minnesota picked up a five-point win in the earlier meeting. There was no Tatum or Marcus Smart for that game. Brown picked up the slack, with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Pritchard delivered a 24-point, 8-rebound, 6-assist game.

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Heading into the homestretch, the Celtics are in prime position to lock up a playoff spot this week. Powered by their defense, one that hasn’t allowed more than 104 points in their last six games (three under 100), the Celtics are building themselves up for a deep playoff run. But as much fun as it is to start dreaming about that, it’s smart to follow another old sports maxim as we dream: Taking things one game at a time.