Celtics answer Joe Mazzulla’s latest challenge with ‘clincher’ win


“Yeah, we went out there and took care of business.”

Boston MA 4/3/24 04celtics Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (8) reacts after slam dunking against the Oklahoma City Thunder during fourth quarter NBA action at TD Garden.
Kristaps Porzingis and the Celtics clinched the NBA’s best record on Wednesday.. Photo by Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

At this juncture of the NBA calendar, there’s little left for Joe Mazzulla and the Boston Celtics to prove — at least during the regular season.

With just seven games separating Boston from the playoffs entering Wednesday night, the Celtics were already secure atop the Eastern Conference, clinching the top seed and securing home-court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs last month. 

For most teams, that coronation atop the conference might have signaled a lighter workload down this final regular-season stretch.

But ahead of Wednesday’s game against a banged-up Thunder team, Mazzulla offered up another challenge to his team.

Boston’s 76th game of the season presented the Celtics with a chance to clinch the top record across the entire NBA — a feat that the franchise has not achieved since its 2007-08 championship season.

And with motivation scarce across the NBA at this stage of the year, the Celtics heeded their coach’s message about seizing what was immediately in front of them.

“We have to find, for each of these games as we’re heading toward the end of the season, some sort of motivation,” Kristaps Porzingis noted. “And tonight was a night where it was like, ‘Okay, if we win this game. We can achieve something.’

“And Joe just kind of poked us a little bit and got us going for the game, knowing that we can clinch it. And, yeah, we went out there and took care of business.”

Boston’s 135-100 win over the Thunder at TD Garden gave the Celtics their 14th 60-win season in franchise history — the most of any team in the league.

But beyond that, securing the best record during the 2024 campaign guarantees that the Celtics will hold home-court advantage across the entire upcoming playoff slate, including a potential bout in the NBA Finals.

“It’s an achievement,” Porzingis, who scored 27 points with 12 rebounds and five blocks, said postgame. “We work hard all season long and I think we deserve this. It wasn’t a specific goal for us, but as the year went on, we just kept on doing our job, kept on working hard and winning games and we ended up at this point. I think we deserve it and it’s possibly going to matter if we follow through with the vision that we have for ourselves.”

With six more games left before the playoffs begin, the Celtics can now begin the process of resting some of their top players before the grind really begins in the postseason. Even if securing the top seed in the NBA felt like an inevitable result for this Boston team, Mazzulla still stressed that it’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

“Celebrating as much as, ‘Bring it in’, shake everyone’s hand and say, ‘Don’t take it for granted.’ Then yeah, we celebrated it,” Mazzulla said of how Boston celebrated Wednesday’s win. “I think it’s important to not take it for granted. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that. It’s very hard to do. We may never be in this position again. So you don’t want to take it for granted.

“So yeah, we’ve definitely talked about it as a team. Talked about before the game, trying to treat this game as like the clincher to kind of put that on ourselves to be able to do that. I think it was important for us to simulate that. And it’s just a testament to the guys. So we should enjoy it tonight and we wake up tomorrow — nobody cares. So just got to get back to work.”

Boston’s regular-season accomplishments should come in handy, especially if the Celtics make it all the way to the Finals and hold home-court against an imposing Western Conference foe like the Nuggets.

Granted, TD Garden hasn’t exactly been an advantageous venue for the Celtics over the last few seasons. Before going 5-6 on Causeway Street during the 2023 playoffs, Boston went just 6-6 during home playoff games as part of its run to the Finals in 2022.

But a new season presents a new slate for a Celtics team still in pursuit of that sought-after 18th banner.

“It’s an honor, it’s a blessing to be on a 60-win team,” Jaylen Brown noted. “It’s a lot of hard work that went into that, especially after coming up short last season — responding and coming back and not skipping any steps. So I think we’re on track, 60 wins. When the playoffs start, it’s back to square one.”

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