Of all the encouraging moments in the Boston Celtics’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night — and there was no shortage of them — one of the more notable sequences came with the game well in hand and offered a rare glimpse of the team’s togetherness.
DeMarcus Cousins had just dropped Aron Baynes with a lowered shoulder while trying to back his way to the basket. Cousins took exception to Baynes selling the whistle he drew by going to the ground hard, and Cousins stomped over to bark at Boston’s reserve center.
As Cousins started to walk away, Jayson Tatum, giving up at least 75 pounds, shoved Golden State’s big man. After Cousins gave an emphatic shove back, Terry Rozier, giving up at least 10 inches, rushed over ready to scrap as referees scrambled to separate the players.
It might not have seemed like much, but given all the scrutiny about the chemistry of these Celtics and whether these guys actually enjoy playing with each other, it was notable the way Rozier and Tatum stood up for Baynes.
For a Boston team that pledged to stay together amid a tumultuous stretch in a drama-filled season, the sequence suggested that players might truly have each other’s back. As Boston’s locker room was fighting off a “toxic” label after Jaylen Brown used that word to describe the lingering impact of Boston's losing ways, it was a tiny glimpse into the bonds that do seem to exist.
☘️ CELTICS 128, WARRIORS 95
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Yes, Celtics players have spent the season frustrated by the team’s inability to play to its championship potential. Yes, finger-pointing caused some hard feelings for a young roster that has struggled to identify why things have so frequently gone awry.
It would be absurd to suggest that all of Boston’s issues and locker room strife could be washed away by a single win. But winning does tend to cure what ails a team, and maybe the Celtics found something they can build upon with Tuesday’s statement victory. Kyrie Irving suggested after the game that Boston’s six-hour plane ride, coming immediately after Sunday’s disheartening loss to the Rockets, might have been a blessing in disguise.
Before Tuesday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens referenced the “good vibes” the team was feeling since arriving out west. Irving noted how the team put an emphasis on “being connected” and “being together.”
Even TNT’s Players Only broadcast made note of the difference in Irving’s demeanor on the bench Tuesday. A week earlier he had stewed in Toronto as the Celtics fell behind by 30+ points. This time around, Irving laughed and smiled as Boston put together one of its most inspired efforts of the season, building as much as a 35-point lead and emerging with the sort of win it can cling to when the playoffs roll around.
When Guerschon Yabusele — maybe the happiest player on Boston’s roster — hit a 3-pointer in the waning moments of the final frame, the entire bench erupted in celebration, with Jaylen Brown emphatically replicating Yabusele’s bow-and-arrow celebration. Alongside, Irving and Horford looked genuinely thrilled for Yabusele (who had been deactivated for Sunday’s game with Boston’s roster at full strength).
The Celtics could very easily get steamrolled in Sacramento on Wednesday night and all the bad energy could rush back in. Maybe everyone will be sulking again by the end of the trip. But, at least for one night, the Celtics seemed to genuinely enjoy each other. There wasn’t anything toxic about them.
And they looked a lot like the team most of us expected to see earlier this season. The lingering question remains: Can they bottle up those good vibes and lean on it when the games truly matter in the postseason?
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