BOSTON — What’s an exceptionally good professional team in the New England area without overreactions from certain segments of fans or media members nitpicking at the potential pitfalls of said exceptional New England area team?
You can’t have one without the other, and even as the Boston Celtics put away their first game to start their latest quest for championship No. 18 with relative late Saturday afternoon, an early question for head coach Joe Mazzulla immediately focused on Boston “losing” a 30-point halftime lead in the game, and whether there should be concerns going forward about his championship-ready squad.
Mazzulla, with a deadpanned look as he tilted his head toward the direction of the reporter who lobbed the question, agreed with the press-the-panic-button crowd.
Well, I should say, Mazzulla “agreed.”
“I’m overly concerned,” a clearly sarcastic Mazzulla uttered, before stating his honest assessment of what to make of Boston’s cruise to victory.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Mazzulla said. “This team has played great for the entire season. That’s going to happen. It’s actually good that we went through it. We had to feel that and it’s important that we learn from it.”
In other words, Mazzulla was doing his best Frankie Goes to Hollywood/Aaron Rodgers impersonation to every Celtic worrywart: R-E-L-A-X. Relax!
A 32-point lead was whittled down to 12, at 96-84, early in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as Atlanta would get in the Celtics’ 112-99 victory. After coming within two games of winning the NBA Finals last spring, this season was an exercise in maintaining that excellence while keeping enough in reserve for when the second season starts.
It took all of 15 seconds for Boston to state its intentions, with Jaylen Brown coming up with a steal off a dribble handoff from Trae Young on the first possession of the game and converting on the other end with a layup. With three-quarters of the first quarter over, the Celtics lead was double digits, and the 10-point bulge was in place for the game’s final 34 minutes, buoyed by a 45-point second quarter in which Boston shot a blistering 15-of-21 (71 percent) from the field and opened up a 74-44 lead at halftime.
When it came to worries, the big concerns were allayed throughout that dominant first half: big man Robert Williams looked healthy and was effective in his time on the floor; Marcus Smart looked all of the Defensive Player of the Year he was in the league last year, the lynchpin in holding Young to 5-of-18 shooting from the floor; and Jaylen Brown, who needed five stitches on his shooting hand for a cut suffered while he was watering plants last week, led all players in scoring with 29 points, though the cut opened up during the game and needed to temporarily come out of the game.
Then again, the 32-point lead did not turn into 50. Atlanta fought back, a 32-12 run spanning the third and fourth quarters giving the Hawks an outside chance at an all-time comeback. In truth, the Sisyphean task at Atlanta’s lap sealed its fate, and Boston pushed the lead back to 20 later in the fourth quarter and cruised to victory.
“We expect to get [the Hawks’] best shot,” said Brown, who shot 12-of-23 from the field and also grabbed 12 rebounds. “We let them get a little more comfortable in the second half, so I expect the next game for them to be a little more prepared. So we’ve got to be a little more prepared as well.”
The Celtics also have to prepare for the next doubting Thomas to raise fears about possible Achilles heels on the team. Win (convincingly) or lose, it’s just around the corner.