BOSTON — On the surface, the NBA’s best team — one with an infallible record at home in tow, no less — would not face too much of a challenge against a young squad with almost five times as many defeats as victories on the season. But that did not mean the Boston Celtics did not face any challenges tonight, and down 40 percent of their starting lineup, they showed their depth once more while putting on a sizzling display beyond the arc (again) to continue their spotless start to life at TD Garden.
The trio of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday combined for 67 points, keying the Celtics to a comfortable 117-98 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, extending Boston’s winning streak at home to begin the season to 20 games. Holiday knocked down six of his seven three-point attempts as Boston made 18 threes overall while shooting 60 percent from the field in the first half (27-of-45) to take a 25-point led into halftime.
One might have hardly noticed that the Celtics were playing without both Derrick White (left ankle sprain) and Kristaps Porzingis (right knee inflammation) given the dominance they once again showed on their home floor, yet bringing the best on the floor against a 7-34 team like the Spurs presents difficulties in maintaining an edge and not playing down to the competition.
We got to fight like hell to find the good also but know that we have to get better,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Just live in the healthy space of ‘We’re really good, but let’s be picky. Let’s be hard on ourselves about the details.’ In the middle of January, playing San Antonio whose a little bit down this year, to have some really good moments of greatness, especially defensively, I think that’s key.”
Defensively, the Celtics clamped down on every Spurs player not named Victor Wembanyama, holding San Antonio to 38.8 percent shooting from the field in the game’s first 24 minutes. Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall pick of last year’s NBA Draft, scored 10 points in the first quarter, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, on his way to leading all scorers with 27.
Bigs Al Horford and Luke Kornet stepped into the starting lineup, with Horford making three threes for his nine points and Kornet finishing with six points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in 30 minutes.
Boston might have played its last so-called “breather” in the month, with a stern test of their championship mettle coming to close out January. Friday sees the defending-champion Denver Nuggets pay a visit to TD Garden, and afterward, a three-game road trip begins that includes stops to play the Houston Rockets (15-6 at home), Dallas Mavericks and defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. The final three games for the Celtics in the month are all at home, but include games against the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Wednesday evening’s game, with all photos taken by Boston-area photographer Erica Denhoff. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 45 pictures in total.