Toronto, Ontario — The Toronto Raptors (37-16) topped the Boston Celtics (39-16) in the Air Canada Center by a final score of 111-91. Toronto controlled the pace from the opening tip and completely forced Boston to play by their terms. There was no point where it felt like the Celtics had control of the game.
After battling to a relatively even first-quarter, the Raptors bench caught fire to begin the second. They outscored Boston 36 to 19 in the frame, took a 21-point lead into halftime, and never looked back. The Raptors second-unit backcourt duo of Fred Van Vleet and Delon Wright carved up the Celtics’ defense, and combined for 21 points, 4 assists, and a +25 differential in the first-half.
Van Vleet, in particular, was able to comfortably weave into the paint, where he showed off a full menu of finishing moves, kick-out passes, and pick-and-roll drop-offs. The sophomore guard from Wichita State played like a crafty seasoned year NBA veteran, and finished with ten points, seven assists, and posted a game-high +25 in differential.
Before the halftime break, Boston shot 39.5 percent from the field and 5-for-11 (45.5 percent) from behind the arc. However, they took only two free throws and turned the ball over seven times in the first 24 minutes. The Raptors were an efficient 55.0 percent from the field in the opening two quarters, led by Kyle Lowry’s 13 points.
Third quarters have been Toronto’s achilles heal (23rd ranked defensive rating) all season, but Raptors kept their foot on the gas pedal tonight, and put the game out of reach by the fourth quarter. The Raps were able to double the Celtics in fast break points and drained 17 three-pointers.
After missing the past three games with a sore quad, Kyrie Irving retuned to action, and finished with 17 points in 21 minutes on 6-of-12 shooting. He wasn’t as sharp on the defensive end, and allowed Van Vleet and Lowry to get anywhere they wanted on the floor. Irving’s return sent flavor of last week Terry Rozier back to his normal bench role. All things considered, Rozier had another impressive offensive performances, and contributed 18 points to go with five rebounds and four assists.
Marcus Morris (hip) was back in the lineup after sitting out the past two games after taking a nasty fall last Wednesday against the Knicks. Morris couldn’t find the nylon tonight and finished 4-for-13 from the field, and a team-low -20 in differential.
The Raptors drew up a brilliant game plan against Al Horford, who was limited to only two points, six rebounds, and three assists in 24 game minutes. The Toronto bigs were picking up Horford immediately as he crossed half-court and were making it difficult for him to flash to his typical high-post position. Raptors coach Dwane Casey made a conscious effort to force the Celtics to flourish offensively without having the luxury of Horford’s facilitation. In turn, Boston’s offense was mostly stagnant on the night, and finished with 17 turnovers.
The Raptors are thriving by playing with a completely new offense than we are used to seeing, one predicated on ball movement and floor spacing. Lowry finished with a game-high 23 points, which included shooting 6-of-11 from behind the arc. All-Star starter Demar DeRozan chipped in with 15 points, but also dished out six dimes. In total, the Raptors were able to assist on 29 of their total 40 made field goals.
Toronto is playing like a true contender. It was clear from the jump that they were motivated to make a bold statement to have them included in the narrative for who the best teams are. The Raptors were tenacious on the defensive end, and seemingly jumped into countless passing lanes, which led to fast break layups and transition three-pointers off of Celtic turnovers. While the media has been primarily focused on the drama coming out of Cleveland, the Raptors have quietly remained near the top of the East, and are now tied with Boston in the loss column.
The following players were inactive: Marcus Smart (hand), Shane Larkin (knee) Gordon Hayward (ankle).
Greg Monroe is reportedly in Boston, and continues to remain technically unsigned, as Danny Ainge is trying to maintain maximum flexibility ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. Monroe is fully expected to ink his contract later this week.
Further reinforcements may be on their way. Reports ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline are saying that the Celtics are one of the frontrunners to land Tyreke Evans, and are also exploring a possible deal to acquire Lou Williams.
Next up, the Celtics travel to Washington D.C. to square off with the Wizards on Thursday night. Washington had won their last four games playing without John Wall headed into their matchup tonight against Philadelphia.