On the heels of scoring their most points in a game in nearly 30 years on Wednesday night, the Celtics followed up that record-breaking performance with wire-to-wire domination of one of the two remaining undefeated teams in Orlando bubble Friday with a 122-100 win over the Raptors. Instead of celebrating the effort, Brad Stevens was looking to turn the page before the night even ended.
"This game will mean nothing if we get that opportunity again," the head coach said. "They're a really good team. And I thought they missed a lot of open looks and just wasn't their night.
"I thought our guys played well, though. But it won't mean anything in a couple of weeks."
If you listened to Stevens close enough, one might have wondered if the Celtics had anything to do with the blowout wins in the first place, minimizing any positive steps the team took after winning by an average of 28 points the last two nights.
"Well, on Wednesday morning I didn't think we were very good," Stevens said, after Friday’s 22-point win. "So I'm not sure I've changed just with two nights' sleep. We have played a little better the last two games, but we have a long way to go to get to where we want to be."
Don’t let Stevens tough love from Friday night fool you, something that sounded like Bill Belichick in his prime: The Celtics became a nightmare matchup for the NBA’s best defense in the bubble in Orlando, turning a tight first quarter into 12 minutes of garbage time by the fourth quarter.
In their final tuneup against an elite opponent before the postseason, the Celtics clearly had something to prove on both ends of the floor after lackluster outings to start life in Disney World. In fact, the team’s defensive struggles even caught the eye of Jayson Tatum earlier in the week before Wednesday's initial turnaround.
“I saw something, we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” the All-Star said. “We have to take more pride in that. I think today was a good step in the right direction, but we’ve got to continue to get back to who we are and guard how we normally do.”
The shots started falling for the C’s in the second quarter (70 combined points in the middle periods) but the formula for the win was established early on the defensive end of the floor. Toronto only scored two points in the first five minutes of the game and managed a season-low 37 points in the first half, the lowest total a Celtic opponent had scored in a half all year long.
The end result was impressive but the fact remains that nothing was on the line for either team in this matchup. Toronto had locked up the No. 2 seed already with three straight wins so they were playing for pride and nothing more. That reality has the players taking a similar mentality as their head coach to ensure they don’t get a big head over a couple of important performances for the team's rhythm but ultimately meaningless wins for the ultimate goal.
“I think the last two games we were definitely better on the defensive end,” Theis said after posting 11 points and 11 rebounds. “But today was just one game. It’s probably not the Toronto team we want to see in the playoffs, in case we’re going to play them again in the second round. But overall I think we played physical. We started from the first second we played defense, we didn’t give up any easy layups, any open looks. So that’s the way we have to play every game.”
Winning with the pass
The promising signs weren’t just on the defensive end of the floor though. Jaylen Brown (20 points) led a tightened