By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Go ahead and do it. Slide the Boston Celtics in as title contenders this year -- if you haven't already.
The Celtics are in the midst of their best stretch of the season, proving to any remaining doubters that they have plenty of championship mettle. Boston concluded their post-All-Star break West Coast swing with a convincing 114-103 win over the Jazz in Utah. With the final tilt of a four-game road trip on the second night of a back-to-back, you can usually pencil that in as a "scheduled loss" for most teams.
There was no "scheduled loss" for the Celtics. Jayson Tatum continued his torrid stretch with another 30-point performance, leading the way with 33 points against the Jazz. He heads into Saturday's matchup against the Rockets in Boston averaging 30.5 points for the month of February, good for the fifth-best in the NBA over the last month.
When Tatum wasn't dominating, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart picked up the slack in Salt Lake City. Brown contributed with 20 points and six rebounds, with 10 of those points coming during an important third quarter stretch. Smart had 17 points of his own, and helped seal the win midway through the fourth quarter with a key three to put Boston up by 11 with 7:44 left, followed by a great feed to Enes Kanter on Boston's following possession. That was just one of Smart's team-high nine assists on the evening.
At this point, Tatum is a lock for at least 25 with Brown flirting with 20 points every night. The NBA should just give Tatum the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February.
The victory wrapped up a 3-1 road trip that is just the cherry on top of a great stretch for Boston. The Celtics have been victorious in 14 of their last 17 games, with nine of those wins coming against current playoff teams. The C's have bested the Heat, 76ers, Clippers, Thunder and Lakers during that span, and really, should have had another victory against the Lakers on the road. For some teams, that would be a seasons-worth of quality wins. For the Celtics, they've all come in the last five weeks, and they've come as they juggled with having at least one of their star players out of the lineup on any given night. The fact they went 3-1 on the recent road trip without the services of Kemba Walker makes it all the more impressive.
A lot went right for the Celtics around the NBA on Wednesday night. They took care of their own business, while the Heat lost to the T-Wolves and 76ers lost in Cleveland to a pretend NBA team (in addition to losing Joel Embiid to a shoulder injury). The Celtics now own a five-game lead over the Heat for the three-seed in the Eastern Conference, and trail the Raptors by just a game for the two-seed. That two-seed needs to be Boston's focus, because unfortunately for the C's, the Milwaukee Bucks are on an absurd pace and will likely win 70 games by the end of the regular season.
But the way Boston is playing at the moment, it looks like they could match up with just about anyone in the NBA.
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