Celtics-Suns takeaways: C’s end 2021 on high note with inspired effort originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
It was only fitting that the Boston Celtics closed out an unpredictable year with a surprising performance.
Riding a three-game losing streak entering Friday’s New Year’s Eve matchup with the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics rolled to a 123-108 victory over one of the NBA’s best teams.
Boston held a 30-point lead at one point and held off a late Suns rally to close 2021 with a 17-19 record.
Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart (24 points each) Celtics in scoring with Jayson Tatum sidelined, but Robert Williams was the star of the show, recording his first career triple-double in one of his best games of the season.
The C’s will aim to carry that momentum into 2022 on Sunday in a home matchup against the Orlando Magic.
Law of averages works in Celtics’ favor
The Celtics made four 3-pointers on 42 attempts in Wednesday’s brutal loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. They topped that number one minute into the second quarter Friday afternoon.
Boston lit it up from beyond the arc early in the game to jump out to a 61-47 halftime lead against one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. They hit 9 of 17 3-pointers in the first half and shot 58% from the floor compared to Phoenix’s 36%.
The Celtics finished the afternoon 54.2% from the floor and 37% from distance in a polar opposite performance from Wednesday.
The Celtics got plenty of open looks against Los Angeles but couldn’t buy a bucket. They continued to generate good shots Friday with quality ball movement, and the basketball gods appeared to reward them for that effort.
Jaylen Brown gets some timely help
Brown shouldered much of Boston’s offensive load in the previous two games with Tatum sidelined, and it wasn’t always pretty: He went 13 for 36 on Wednesday with zero assists.
But reinforcements arrived Friday in the form of an impressively balanced attack. Williams was the star of the supporting cast, recording his first career triple-double (and first triple-double of Boston’s season) with a ridiculous stat line: 10 points (on 5-of-5 shooting), 11 rebounds, 10 assists, five blocks and two steals.
Centers with triple-doubles this season:
So the reigning MVP and a future one.
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) December 31, 2021
With Suns big men DeAndre Ayton and JaVale McGee sidelined, Time Lord imposed his will on both ends to help the Celtics win the paint battle.
Smart also stepped up in his first game back from health and safety protocols, while a total of seven Celtics finished in double figures.
The Celtics have a talented supporting cast that has struggled mightily with consistency this season. But Friday’s balanced effort offered a reminder that Brown and/or Tatum don’t have to take over for Boston to win.
Romeo Langford flashes potential with career day
Did you have Romeo Langford tying a career high with 16 points off the bench? We doubt it; the third-year wing had topped 10 points just four times this season entering Friday.
Langford answered the call at TD Garden, though, displaying impressive confidence on the offensive end to finish 6 of 10 with a pair of 3-pointers.
Langford is a strong defender but has yet to take the next step offensively. The 22-year-old looked like a different player Friday, though, attacking the rim and looking more comfortable on the court.
The No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is still Boston’s youngest player, and the more upside he shows, the better for the Celtics, whether they keep him around or make him a trade asset.
C’s get away with another rough fourth quarter
The Celtics have been awful in the fourth quarter of late and entered Friday with the NBA’s second-worst fourth-quarter point differential. They certainly didn’t reverse that trend against the Suns.
Phoenix mounted a furious late comeback, outscoring Boston 31-23 in the final frame and at one point cutting the Celtics’ 23-point lead lead to as little as 12.
To Boston’s credit, Brown and Smart hit some clutch buckets down the stretch to stem the tide.
Friday’s effort was one of the Celtics’ best in a long time and a great way to close out 2021. But if the C’s are making New Year’s resolutions tonight, one of their first should be figuring out how to reverse their fourth-quarter fortunes so they don’t need 20-point cushions to emerge victorious.