BOSTON – The Celtics kept running ahead, but repeatedly found themselves staring the end of their lead right in the face. Then Isaiah Thomas was open in the corner.
As he drilled the three and every fan in the stadium caught air jumping out of their seats, he flexed directly at one guy in a Red Sox hat.
That would be Boston Bicep King Mark Wahlberg, sitting courtside with his children in full Celtics regalia.
"That was my first time ever seeing him," Thomas said. "Once they showed him on the JumboTron, I had to find out where he is. I hit the shot, I definitely had to point, too."
The Raptors were without face of the franchise Kyle Lowry due to a sore left elbow, leaving them to rely on a combination of Delon Wright and sixth man of the year candidate Cory Joseph to run support for DeMar DeRozan.
Brad Stevens, knowing just before gametime that Lowry would be out, decided to slow the pace down and force the Raptors to beat them in the half court. They took just 80 shots Wednesday, tied for the second lowest total in a game for the team this season (77 against the Pacers on November 11 and Hawks on December 18).
"You've got to be able to win a number of different ways," Stevens said. "I think that execution is critical. We've gotten much better as the year's gone on, but it's still something that you have to do every day."
Their identity is clearly as a pace and space team, but Stevens sees them proving their place as a versatile team that can execute in any type of game.
"It's kind of like saying you're really tough," Stevens continued. "You're not tough if you don't play tough. You're not good executing if you don't execute well. So it's just something we have to continue to build on and do every single time we take the court."
But it was their pick-and-roll defense that shined. Amir Johnson had one of his best games of the season, scoring 11 points with 14 rebounds and five assists. But he was incredibly effective of forcing the Raptors to go for their second option on screens, while Bradley and Smart played phenomenal help defense. The Raptors couldn’t find passing lanes to hit weak side cutters and relied on their rebounding advantage and DeRozan’s playmaking to carry them. Johnson came in with a well-versed gameplan to slow down their great dribble penetrstors.
"Going through film, just knowing how to step up on pick-and-rolls a little bit," Amir said. "Being close so they weren’t able to cross over, split the gaps."
The first half was the most begrudging of grudge matches, with the Celtics and Raptors never getting more than one possession of breathing space. The Isaiah Thomas mix tape tour was still in town, as he established that rainbow finger roll – aka the Finger Rain – is now a legitimate part of his scoring arsenal. Thomas threw in a behind-the-back sideways floater and a running hook shot in the lane for good measure.
ANOTHER BIZARRE EPISODE OF THE EVAN TURNER SHOW
It was Evan Turner who had the biggest move of the game, with a low change in direction so fast, the NBA may investigate whether it met the legal definition of a crossover. He scored 15 points in a crucial third quarter that gave the Celtics the upper hand in the constant momentum swings that marked this contest.
He hit from the left corner three, something that's becoming a trend in an incredibly small sample size of success. So is that his new spot?
"No. I mean I don’t know. I’m just happy it goes in. You know what I’m saying? I don’t really have a spot from the three-point line. But I guess the corners are closer. So the corner could be it."
Turner said he was lethal shooting 15-percent from deep, but now he's at a dangerous 21.3-percent.
"Still lethal baby," he said. "All the time. Still lethal. you gotta guard me out there."
He has hit a three in three consecuritve games, just the second time he's pulled it off this season. How in the world did he do it?
"The ball is going in. I’m not a good three-point shooter, but damn I wasn’t 15-percent bad!" he said. "It had to balance itself out. So it’s finally going in.
"So it’s cool and when you’re open, you gotta shoot the right kind of shot. You know a guy like me or Amir or something, that’s like the ultimate boost of momentum. I’m glad that helped."
Turner had a bizarre confrontation with referee Monty McCutchen in the second quarter that ended up with him getting a technical foul. Considering how little fanfare there was surrounding the event, the working theory was that a few bombs of the F variety were dropped.
"It went from what could have been a flagrant one to a technical. Monty [McCutchen] obviously – I say the F-word in regards to that you can’t guard – and I say the F-word as in, I’ve cursed out refs before. You know what I’m saying? It’s Monty not listening to me basically.
"I deserved techs in the past, but that whole 35 seconds was garbage. So I don’t really care. I’m glad I didn’t hit the ground and you know break my back again. Sometimes it’s just that serious, you know what I’m saying? I don’t speak for the sake of talking, you know what I’m saying? In certain aspects, that right there was bulls--- the whole game."
Turner is in one piece and only got one tech, so he is lucky to move on from a crucial win.