BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics completed a clean sweep on their four-game swing against Western Conference teams Monday night with a somewhat ugly win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. While the victory wasn't pretty for stretches, the Celtics got the job done and continued their climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
The Celtics raced out to a 13-0 lead and held a 17-point advantage after the first quarter. They led by 14 at the half before dropping 43 points on Oklahoma City in the third quarter. The Boston lead ballooned to 26 points before the Thunder went on a run to cut it to single digits.
Surrendering 73 points in the second half was the ugly part. Giving up 124 points overall to the Thunder, 20 points more than they average on a given night, is not what you expect from the best defense in the league.
But the Boston reserves were able to hold off that late Thunder surge on the second night of a back-to-back, and the defensive issues can be forgiven considering Marcus Smart and Robert Williams -- the anchors of the Celtics' defense -- both missed the game. After trouncing the Warriors, Kings and Nuggets to start the road trip, the Celtics found a way to win ugly to close it out. They led by more than 20 points in each of the four victories.
A few months ago, this would have been a game the Celtics lost. They would have folded down the stretch, or it would have been a "scheduled loss" to close out the trip. But these Celtics no longer take nights off. They used to find new and frustrating ways to lose; now they figure out ways to gut out wins.
"I feel like this team is growing closer and closer every single day," Grant Williams said after his spot start. "We are proving ourselves so we can compete not only with the best teams, the worst teams, but anyone in the league. It's a matter of maintaining the consistency; not riding the highs or lows and just staying even-keeled."
That's a major reason why they've gone from outside of the play-in picture two-and-a-half months ago to now percentage points out of second place in the East. Boston is sitting at 45-28 on the season with nine games to go, nipping at the heels of the 76ers and the Bucks. And this isn't just a hot streak; the Celtics have been the best team in the NBA for two months now, the kind of sustained run that shows this is no fluke.
It also helps to have two stars firing on all cylinders. Jayson Tatum logged his third straight 30-point game, dropping 36 off 11-for-19 shooting. He also made nine trips to the free throw line, and knocked down all nine of his freebies. For the road trip, Tatum shot a ridiculous 59 percent from the floor, averaging 31 points over the four games.
Jaylen Brown was just as good with 25 points off 10-for-19 shooting on Monday night, attacking the Thunder defense with thunderous results. He too had a trip to remember, averaging 27.8 points off 54.5 percent shooting.
Al Horford was his usual father-like self with seven assists in his return to OKC, while Grant Williams took full advantage of his spot start. He didn't have a Joker to lock down, but the new Batman put up a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
It wasn't always pretty, but the Celtics held on for the win to sweep their road trip. Monday's win will give Ime Udoka plenty of humbling game film to keep his team hungry as they close out the regular season, but the C's should maintain plenty of confidence that they can win in a number of ways against both the best and the worst the NBA has to offer.
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