Boston Celtics closed out a road trip on a winning note Thursday night with a commanding 143-110 win over the Heat despite Kristaps Porzingis being injured.
The victory puts Boston into a new state of control for the Eastern Conference amid a stretch of chaos from some of their top East rivals.
As the Bucks prepare to jumpstart their season and schemes under new coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics have a season-long seven-game homestand awaiting them in the friendly confines of TD Garden.
Boston has gone 22-1 on their home floor this year and will be facing four sub-.500 opponents in the upcoming stretch. Adding to their 3.5-game lead atop the Eastern Conference will be a very attainable task if they continue to take care of business on the floor.
“I thought we played a really good game,” Joe Mazzulla said after the win.
“I said to a few of the guys, this game is really good but it means nothing at all in the grand scheme of things if we don’t take the lessons that we need to and apply it to the next game. So you enjoy it until we get to the plane and then it’s onto the next one.
“But I think the lessons here are what’s more important in the long-term, whether we won or lost here. Understanding what we’ve done well in areas of the game that we’ve really improved on and fighting to keep those.”
As the momentum builds, the pressure will now fall on Boston’s front office in the coming weeks as they gauge the right moves to put the finishing touches on this roster. Boston’s top-6 remains untouchable for the present season according to league sources as the front office continues to build around them.
Against opponents like the Heat and other potential East contenders, there are few weaknesses that could be addressed. Big man depth behind Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis remains a question mark if injuries strike for the postseason. Brad Stevens has also talked openly about his desire for a big wing.
Yet, the pieces of the puzzle continue to look good for this Boston group collectively through 45 games. The Celtics bench has worked together as an effective unit when flanked by one or two stars.
Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser have been consistent and reliable with their production. Luke Kornet has effectively served as one of the best third string bigs in the NBA.
Yet against a formidable postseason opponent, questions remain whether Boston’s season could come crashing to a halt if an injury hits their top-6.
Thursday’s win provided a reminder of that even as Boston took care of business after Porzingis went down in the third quarter with an ankle injury amid a historic shooting night for the visitors. The same result may not come true against an elite opponent in a tougher environment.
With that wildcard in mind, it’s on the front office to protect the team against that very real possibility. The Bucks have already shown their cards with a stunning midseason coaching change.
They know they have to get better in a hurry to match the Celtics and will be climbing uphill to try to stay pace. The 76ers still lack star power to adequately compete with Boston and it remains to be seen whether Daryl Morey will make the type of swing necessary to do so and sacrifice offseason cap room in the process.
Teams like the Knicks and Heat are improving with mid-tier talent but are still several steps below Boston in terms of pure talent level.
Brad Stevens has already made his big moves for the year with Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. Making those moves early has allowed for better cohesion and in all likelihood, a top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Make no mistake, more moves along the fringes will matter this year for Boston. For every title team, there is usually some version of PJ Brown, whether acquired via trade or free agency, a guy who could come in handy down the line.
The Celtics are going to be facing an array of skillsets in their next postseason run including potentially the Heat we saw Thursday night. Boston will need to give Joe Mazzulla all the necessary tools at his disposal to navigate these waters.
A stellar first half of the season is a great start on that front but a backup plan needs to be better fortified. Any potential acquisition will likely be unused in the best-case scenario but this group should try to prepare for the worst. This team could be good enough to overcome a key injury for a few games with the proper pieces in place.