Chris Forsberg

Jaylen Brown, Celtics send a message after stomping Warriors

The Celtics accomplished an important goal in Sunday's 52-point win.

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The Boston Celtics exorcised a whole bunch of demons Sunday afternoon with a 52-point stomping of a Golden State Warriors team that had been living in their heads since the 2022 NBA Finals. But the most titillating moment of the day actually came about an hour after the final buzzer.

Jaylen Brown, fresh off shredding a Warriors defense that improbably challenged him to fire away early and often, wrapped up his postgame press conference with a rather profound statement.

"It's a lot of respect for the Golden State Warriors,” said Brown, "but we feel like it’s our time now.”

The Celtics, with the rest of the league deep in the rearview mirror and putting up the sort of numbers that slot them among the elite teams in NBA history, don’t necessarily exude an obvious swagger, but their play Sunday most certainly sent an emphatic message to the league.

For all their successes over the past half decade, the core of this Celtics team has been saddled with the suggestion that they cannot thrive on the biggest stage. Ultimately, that's a notion this team can't quite dispel until the playoffs arrive.

But Sunday’s win mattered, and a bit more than others. Even though the Warriors’ dynasty feels a bit like it’s on life support, they still owned real estate in Boston’s head from the 2022 Finals. The Celtics routinely looked overhyped for the regular-season rematches and often fell into old bad habits. Careless turnovers. Painful scoring droughts. Poor bench contributions. The Warriors rallied from a 17-point hole to win in overtime during the teams' first meeting this season in December.

But none of that happened Sunday, as Brown ignited one of the most absurd runs since James Naismith first hung up a peach basket.

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The Celtics tore open a tied game while scoring a ridiculous 82-first-half points. Boston led by a franchise record 44 points at the intermission and pushed that advantage north of 50 before sending in the reserves to finish off a 140-88 triumph inside a delirious TD Garden.

(A quick aside: What in the world were the Warriors thinking in challenging Brown? Here are his numbers in five games since the All-Star break: 27.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists per game, 59.6 field goal percentage, 45.2 3-point percentage, 1.4 turnovers per game; 1.0 steals per game. Brown is +110 in 156 minutes of court time post-All-Star. After a little dip in his defensive intensity, Brown has taken on the challenge of chasing Luka Doncic and Steph Curry the last couple games. He is once again rumbling towards an All-NBA berth given Boston’s utter domination).

Look, one lopsided regular-season victory doesn’t wash away the sting of fumbling away a chance at Banner 18 in 2022. And while it might be irrational to suggest the Celtics have any “must-win” regular-season games given an 8.5-game cushion atop the East and no team within six games in the entire league, it does not feel like hyperbole to suggest that the Celtics needed to win Sunday’s game.

If Boston tripped up again versus the Warriors, the narrative would have been that they still weren’t ready for the big stage -- that this core can dominate for stretches of the regular season, but that losses to the Nuggets and Warriors suggested this squad still wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Instead, the Celtics gave a national audience a glimpse of what they can do when they are fully engaged. Even playing without Kristaps Porzingis, which bit into Boston’s depth, the Celtics still absolutely bullied the Warriors.

Those painful postseason turnovers? Boston committed just one in the first half. The painful scoring droughts? The Celtics shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half, including 62.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc (15 for 24). The bench woes? Luke Kornet and Sam Hauser, part of that bench group that Boston couldn’t fully trust in 2022, played key roles in tearing this game open as Boston motored away late in the first quarter.

Hauser was +27 over 10 minutes in the first half; Kornet, who Mazzulla singled out in the locker room after the game, was +20 in six energy-filled minutes.

The Celtics didn’t give the Warriors any chance to even consider a comeback. Brown and birthday boy Jayson Tatum paired up for 47 first-half points, outscoring the Warriors on their own. Even better: The Jays routinely continued to make the right play even when they were on fire to NBA Jam-like levels, with Derrick White and Jrue Holiday ready to knock down open looks when the ball came their way.

The Celtics' numbers are absurd. They own the best offense in the NBA with a 121.7 offensive rating that is 1.6 points better than second-place Indiana. Boston has shimmied up to No. 2 in defensive rating at 110.2. The Celtics’ +11.6 net rating is 3.6 points better than second-place Oklahoma City (+8) and more than twice better than the nearest Eastern Conference rival (Cleveland, +5).

The Celtics, now riding an 11-game winning streak, are trending toward a 66-win pace. That number might come in slightly lower given the need to rest players over the final 22 games, and it won’t be as easy to find game-to-game motivation given the big cushion in the East.

But there is still some immediate motivation. Tuesday’s visit to Cleveland kicks off a daunting five-game road trip that includes a Thursday-night showdown with the Nuggets. Boston gets a chance to avenge another early-season loss and show where it stands against the reigning champs. The Celtics have produced some of their best basketball ever since being unable to take down the Nuggets in their visit to Boston in January.

It’s another opportunity for the Celtics to show it truly is their time now.

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