Celtics clinch NBA’s best record, blow out Thunder: 8 takeaways


Wednesday’s win set a new NBA record.

Kristaps Porzingis
Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis (8) reacts after slam dunking against the Oklahoma City Thunder during fourth quarter NBA action at TD Garden. Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe

The Celtics used an impressive second half and a monstrous fourth quarter to pull away from the Thunder on Wednesday, claiming a 135-100 victory that clinched the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage against any opponent they face in the postseason. 

Here are the takeaways. 

1. One thing we learned from Wednesday’s game is that the Celtics will beat the Thunder if the two teams face off in the NBA Finals without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the best of the three Thunder players with the last name “Williams” (Jalen), especially if the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team by percentage can’t buy a bucket. 

The Thunder started the game ice cold from 3-point range, shooting 2-for-15 in the first half before rising to the mean briefly in the third quarter to trim the lead as low as five. 

The Celtics, however, had far too much firepower and pulled away to claim their 60th win and the NBA’s top overall record. 

“It’s an honor,” Jaylen Brown said. “It’s a blessing to be on a 60-win team. 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. I think we’re on track.”

Even Joe Mazzulla – very much in his own way – admitted that 60 wins meant something when asked if the team celebrated.

“Celebrating as much as, ‘Bring it in,’ shaking everyone’s hand, and saying, ‘Don’t take it for granted,’” Mazzulla said. “Yeah, we celebrated it. I think that’s important to not take it for granted. I think it’s important to have the 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 definitely talked about it as a team. Talked about it before the game, trying to treat this game as like the clincher to kind of put that on ourselves to do that. I think it was important for us to simulate that. It’s just a testament to the guys. We should enjoy it tonight, wake up tomorrow and nobody cares. Time to get back to work.”

2. If the Thunder and the Celtics do face off in the Finals, it will probably mean the Thunder figured out a way to deal with opposing big men. That skill remained elusive to OKC on Wednesday, however – Kristaps Porzingis feasted on their lack of size, finishing with a game-high 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, four assists and five blocked shots. He knocked down several mid-range jumpers, posted smaller defenders and went 3-for-3 from 3-point range after a recent cold snap. When he returned to the game in the third quarter, the Celtics immediately righted a slow stretch that saw the lead dwindle as low as five.

“When KP is physical, when he’s challenging guys at the rim, when he’s alert to the doubles and not flopping and he’s holding his ground, KP has been extremely impactful,” Brown said. “So we just want to encourage him to bring that side out, because the more we see that KP, the less we’ll lose.”

The Thunder are a really good team and have been a nice story this year, but it’s difficult to imagine how they could overcome a challenge like the Nuggets – or even the Timberwolves – given their lack of size. 

3. Porzingis is averaging 1.9 blocks per game this season, but he’s up to 3.2 over the last five games. 

“To be honest, my legs are a little bit better,” he said. “But mostly it’s just starting to turn up a little bit more.”

Mazzulla noted that it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to play in the Celtics’ system. 

“Just learning the timing of the help based on where you are is something that’s really hard to do, and because of his positioning and his work in the film room and on the floor, he’s able to have a great feel for that,” Mazzulla said.

4. Back on the bench as the Celtics rounded into full health, Al Horford scored 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and buried a pair of big triples in the third quarter that helped the Celtics maintain their lead during the only tense(ish) part of the game. 

As a team, the Celtics have responded to runs much better this season. 

“Just understanding the ebbs and flows of the game,” Mazzulla said. “There’s natural runs, there’s natural variance within a game, so having an awareness to why the run has been made, having an awareness how to stop that and how to control the momentum of either side of the ball. The guys have a good awareness of that and can make plays on both ends of the floor to kind of combat that.”

5. Jaylen Brown was 4-for-14 for eight points in quarters 1-3 before exploding for 15 points in the fourth quarter to bring the game home. He shot 5-for-6 from the floor and 3-for-4 from behind the arc, and he was responsible for five more points as well on two gorgeous assists to Jrue Holiday. 

Brown – who finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal but turned the ball over five times – was less than impressed with his performance.

“I feel like I had a s— game tonight,” he said. “Just wasn’t feeling my best, but luckily we’re on a great team where we found ways to win. I definitely feel like I played a little better in the fourth but just a tough night.”

6. Incidentally, Horford is fully convinced that Brown deserves an All-Defense first team selection.

“He wants the responsibility on the defensive end,” Horford said. “And a lot of people say they may want those challenges, but he’s facing all types of different players. He’s guarding Steph Curry, he’s guarding Zion, just different guys that he has to match up against. Just being very unbiased, it’s very clear he’s First Team All-Defense. You look at what he’s doing individually and the impact he has on the defensive end – we’re one of the best defenses, we have the best record, he deserves to be in that position.”

7. In addition to having the league’s best record, the Celtics are pummeling opponents. Wednesday’s win set a new NBA record: They have now beaten 16 opponents by 25 points or more. Their 12.0 net rating leads the NBA by five full points.

8. The Celtics – who have just six remaining games on their regular-season slate – will return to action Friday against the Kings in Boston, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. They have just one remaining road game the rest of the way. 

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