The Celtics couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. They weren’t getting it done defensively, and their frustration with the officiating was painfully apparent late in the third quarter, with Jayson Tatum and Grant Williams barking at the refs in a game that was in danger of getting away from them.
They needed another spark, as they’ve tended to require at various points early this season. Then Joe Mazzulla offered yet another reminder of his team’s incredible depth with an unlikely move that paid game-changing dividends.
Down on the end of the bench, Mazzulla called for Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet, neither of whom had played Friday night and had played minimal minutes over the last week. And of course, it worked. After trailing for much of the third quarter, the duo of Pritchard and Kornet was exactly the boost the Celtics needed as they turned a close game into a laugher in a 122-104 victory over the Kings.
Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and Jaylen Brown added 25 as the Celtics improved to 15-4, but their unexpected bench heroes were the most responsible for this victory.
It didn’t look promising for the Celtics late in the third as Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart all had four fouls. They trailed 84-80 with three minutes left in the period when Pritchard and Kornet checked into the game and they made immediate contributions. Right away, there seemed to be an extra pep in the Celtics’ step as strong defense from Malcolm Brogdon and Kornet turned into transition points for Pritchard, who tied the game with a pair of free throws.
On their next possession, Pritchard drilled a 3-pointer on a feed from Brogdon and the Celtics didn’t trail again. Tatum then found Kornet for an alley-oop and then Tatum made back-to-back buckets as Boston closed the period on a 14-0 run. They ultimately made it a 32-4 run as they led the Kings by as many as 27 in the fourth quarter, an absurd turnaround after how things looked for the Celtics late in the third.
Pritchard finished with nine points and was a plus-22 despite playing just 15 minutes while Kornet had four points and had a pair of blocks, finishing with a plus-19 in just 12 minutes.
Other takeaways from the victory:
– The Celtics opened up a sizable lead early in the game by doing something they haven’t done much yet this season – forcing turnovers.
The C’s entered Friday ranked dead last in the NBA with just 12.6 turnovers forced per game. But naturally, against the best offensive team they’ve faced this season, they swarmed the Kings in the opening period as they forced them into 10 turnovers in the first 12 minutes, which translated to 11 points.
The 10 Kings turnovers were the most by an NBA team in any first quarter this season, and it helped the Celtics build a lead as large as 16 on Jayson Tatum’s turnaround jumper on the first play of the second quarter.
– But the Celtics fell into familiar bad habits in the second quarter. Entering Friday, they had the 29th-ranked second quarter defense, and it showed in a brutal period in which the Kings clawed back to tie the game.
Tatum and the bench unit seemed to get complacent offensively and it helped the Kings – who couldn’t buy a bucket in the first quarter and thrive in transition – get out and run. Sacramento got whatever they wanted at the rim as they scored 26 points in the paint, where the Celtics were letting them inside for several uncontested looks. The Kings tied the game on De’Aaron Fox’s and-one with 12.7 second left in the half to make it 62-all before Tatum’s layup with 2.9 seconds left gave the C’s a halftime lead.
The Kings scored 40 points in the second quarter, the most the Celtics have given up in any quarter this season.