Three Key Storylines
- Kristaps Porzingis and Jayson Tatum take over
- Payton Pritchard provides a spark
- Lost in transition
In a true tale of two halves, the Boston Celtics earned a comeback victory over one of the worst teams in the NBA on Friday night.
The C's looked sluggish for much of the first half vs. the Washington Wizards, particularly on the defensive end. They allowed the 9-41 Wizards to score 71 points through the first two frames. Meanwhile, they had an uncharacteristically difficult time shooting the 3-ball, going just 4-for-19 from beyond the arc.
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As Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe noted, Washington is one of only three teams to score 70 or more first-half points against Boston this season.
Whatever C's head coach Joe Mazzulla said at halftime, it resonated. The Celtics erupted for 36 points in the third quarter while limiting the Wizards to 16, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a 13-point lead.
It got dicey in the fourth -- Washington cut the deficit to four with 42 points in the quarter -- but Boston escaped with a 133-129 win.
Jayson Tatum (35 points) and Kristaps Porzingis (34 points) were the stars for the C's. Jrue Holiday and Jaylen Brown added 20 and 18 points, respectively.
Corey Kispert dropped a team-high 24 points in 24 minutes for the Wizards. Deni Avdija also notched 24 while Jordan Poole contributed 19 -- all scored in the first half.
We didn't see Celtics trade deadline additions Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer due to minor injuries, but they could make their C's debuts as soon as Sunday. Their presence should give a well-timed boost to Boston's defense.
With their seven-game homestand in the books, the C's (40-12) will head down to Miami for a Sunday showdown with the Heat (28-24). First, here are our takeaways from Friday's game.
Kristaps Porzingis, Jayson Tatum take over
This game was trending in the wrong direction until Tatum and Porzingis took matters into their own hands. The duo was too much for Washington to handle over four quarters.
Tatum led the Celtics with 18 points in the first half, 13 of them coming in the second quarter. He picked up where he left off in the third, dropping another 13 points to nearly outscore the entire Wizards team in the frame.
Tatum ended up with a game-high 35 points on 12-of-22 shooting (3-10 3-PT). The five-time All-Star pulled down 10 rebounds and just missed a triple-double with eight assists. He added two blocks and a steal in what was an all-around stellar performance to help prevent the upset on his home court.
As great as Tatum was, the Celtics wouldn't have held off the Wizards without Porzingis. The Latvian big man went off against his former team, going for 16 points in the first half and finding another gear in the third quarter, when he scored 14 more.
Porzingis did work on both ends as he had a double-double by the end of the third quarter. He finished with 35 points (9-18 FG, 2-4 3-PT) and 11 rebounds. He also was a perfect 14-for-14 from the free-throw line to set a new career-high.
That's now three consecutive games in which Porzingis has been sensational. He tallied 26 points vs. Memphis and 31 vs. Atlanta before Friday night and shot at least 50 percent from the floor in all three outings.
Think he took his All-Star snub personally?
Payton Pritchard provides a spark
Pritchard gave the Celtics an energy boost when they needed it most. The fourth-year guard got his team and the TD Garden crowd into it when he drilled a buzzer-beater half-court heave to end the first quarter.
He almost gave the home crowd an encore at the end of the third, making another half-court shot at the buzzer before the officials waved it off. The ball left his hand just milliseconds after the buzzer sounded.
Still, it made for a memorable moment and an impressive highlight.
Pritchard did more than just heave it from halfcourt. He provided the C's valuable minutes off the bench, scoring 11 points (eight in second half) on 4-of-7 shooting and bringing down six boards. Most importantly, he gave his team life when it seemed lifeless against one of the worst teams in the league.
Lost in transition
The Celtics looked lackadaisical on defense for much of the night, particularly in transition. They allowed a whopping 18 fastbreak points in the first quarter alone.
To put that number in perspective, Boston averages 13.6 fastbreak points allowed and Washington averages 16.9 fastbreak points scored per game.
Boston let up an alarming 36 transition points in total, putting its defensive effort in question in what should have been a breeze of a game. With only four games remaining until the All-Star break, it's fair to wonder whether the Celtics simply lost focus against an inferior opponent.
They will need to regain that focus on Sunday when they visit the Heat, then maintain it when they face two more losing teams in the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls before the All-Star break.