Sam Hauser’s injury the only blemish in another big Celtics win

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Were it not for a single unfortunate step, Sam Hauser would have had an opportunity to chase NBA history Sunday night. But with 7:43 left in the third quarter, the Boston Celtics sharpshooter suffered a sprained left ankle while stepping on the foot of someone on the Washington Wizards bench.

With plenty of game left to play, Hauser had already established new career highs with 30 points and 10 made 3-pointers. He was just four made 3-pointers shy of Klay Thompson’s single-game NBA record (14). Because the Celtics were well on their way to a 130-104 win, Hauser likely would not have played the entirety of the fourth quarter. Still, he would have had time to hunt the 3-point record against the Wizards’ last-ranked defense, which was missing several key players.

“It was fun to watch him shoot,” Joe Mazzulla told reporters in Washington. “It was fun to watch those guys look for him.”

It must not have been fun for Hauser to hobble off the court in obvious pain after a most unlucky injury. After missing a 3-point attempt deep in the right corner, he initially landed without incident. While trying to spin around to run back on defense, he stepped on the foot of someone sitting on the Wizards bench. Hauser fell to the court and grabbed at his ankle. He was able to walk off toward the locker room area under his own power, but Mazzulla told reporters the 26-year-old wing would undergo precautionary X-rays on his ankle.

Before the injury, Hauser was building the best game of his career. After missing his first 3-point attempt, he sank his next seven, including six straight to start the second quarter. He finished 10 for 13 from behind the arc with six swishes. The sprained ankle robbed him of a chance to catch Thompson’s record of 14 made 3-pointers or Marcus Smart’s Celtics record (11), but Hauser became the first player in NBA history to make at least 10 3-pointers while playing 23 minutes or fewer.

“I loved his confidence,” Mazzulla said. “Loved his aggressiveness. Loved how guys looked for him. I loved how he got his shots within the flow of our execution. That’s the weapon that he is. His ability to just put two (defenders) on the ball, his ability to create open shots for himself and other people.”

After drilling his sixth 3-pointer with 6:28 left in the second quarter, Hauser could be seen screaming, “Boom.”

The exclamation fit. Hauser’s bucket had given the Celtics a 64-37 lead. Five of his first seven 3-point attempts had hit nothing but net. With plenty of game remaining, he had already pulled within two made 3-pointers of his previous career high. And Hauser wasn’t alone. The Celtics were essentially on team fire like the mode in NBA Jam. Jayson Tatum was on his way to splashing home five first-half 3-pointers. The team was minutes away from entering halftime at 17 for 29 from behind the arc. Without Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown and Derrick White, the Celtics were headed for their third 80-point first half since Jan. 30. The organization did not have one from 1991-2023, according to NBC Sports Boston statistician Dick Lipe.

As they typically have, the Celtics took care of business against an inferior opponent. The victory moved them to 25-1 against teams with a record worse than .500. Every other team in the NBA has at least three losses against such opponents.

The opening play of the game suggested the Celtics brought the right mentality against an injury-depleted Wizards squad. On Tatum’s first touch, he posted up, put his shoulder down and bumped defender Justin Champagnie, a former Celtics wing, all the way from the elbow to the restricted area. Tatum didn’t convert the layup but drew a couple of free throws and set a tone that Boston would be taking the matchup seriously. He finished with 30 points, including 25 in the first half, over 27 minutes.

The game looked like a mismatch on the schedule. The Celtics are on pace to lead the league in scoring efficiency and have been on a heater since before the All-Star break. The Wizards entered Sunday with the league’s worst defensive rating and a 2-11 record since the break. Though Boston was missing three starters, Washington was down more rotation players — and the teams’ depth charts simply don’t compare. The short-handed Celtics were still able to rely on Tatum and Jrue Holiday, who have seven All-Star Game appearances between them. Champagnie, who drew the Tatum assignment, was waived by Boston in August. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight on paper.

The Celtics made sure it also wasn’t fair on the court but will need to hold their breath over Hauser’s injury. If he misses extended time, they will need to replace his knockdown shooting and dependable defense off the bench. They don’t have another two-way forward to use in the second unit. Relative to other positions, they might be most thin on the wing, where Hauser was the only rotation regular behind Tatum and Brown. Oshae Brissett, who saw his first start of the season Sunday with Boston down three starters, could see more action. The Celtics could also go to more double big lineups off the bench with some combination of Al Horford, Xavier Tillman and Luke Kornet.

With a 9 1/2-game lead in the Eastern Conference, Boston won’t have any urgency to bring Hauser back quickly unless he’s physically ready. But he has emerged as an important piece and the Celtics will feel his absence if it lasts.

(Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

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