Two days after a disappointing road loss to the arch-rival Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics righted their ship in their season debut at TD Garden, defeating the defending champion Toronto Raptors, 112-106. Behind an electric offensive performance in the second half, the Celtics outlasted massive performances from Toronto’s star duo of Kyle Lowry (29 points, 7 assists) and Pascal Siakam (33 points, 8 rebounds). Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the way with 25 points apiece, shooting 19-of-42 combined, and Kemba Walker overcame a slow start to score 22, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Brown got off to a quick start, scoring the Celtics’ first points at TD Garden of the season and tacking on two more buckets in the opening minutes, but he seemed to be the only one in an offensive rhythm to start the night. Both teams shot worse than 30% from the field in the opening quarter. Of particular concern, Walker’s shooting woes seemed to carry over from his 4-of-18 performance against Philadelphia: he missed his first six attempts of the night before finally connecting on a layup with four minutes left in the quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the Celtics appeared to find a spark in the form of Brown and second-year center Robert Williams. With six minutes left in the half, Brown smothered Siakam, forcing an awkward pass and a turnover, and then converted on a thundering dunk at the other end off the feed from Tatum. Moments thereafter, Williams finished a razor-sharp alley-oop off a feed from Hayward, and TD Garden came to life.
The Celtics struggled to maintain the energy, however, as their anemic offense continued to spin its tires. They attempted six three-pointers in the quarter, missing all of them, while the Raptors hit six of their 11 looks from deep. Still, thanks to a gritty effort on defense (9 steals, 2 blocks) and on the offensive glass (11 offensive rebounds), the Celtics entered halftime leading by one.
Disconcertingly, Daniel Theis came up injured early in the quarter, when he appeared to roll his ankle after inadvertently walking into Toronto’s Stanley Johnson. Theis departed the game for the locker room, but after an initial designation of questionable due to a left ankle sprain, he was upgraded at halftime and returned to the game to start the second half. For a team already missing Enes Kanter, his return was a positive, and he quickly swatted a Lowry layup attempt after returning to the court.
Coming out of halftime, the Boston offense finally started to find a little bit of mojo. Hayward opened the half by knocking down a three-pointer, followed shortly thereafter by a jumper from Walker and another layup from Brown. Unfortunately, as the Celtics started to heat up, so too did Lowry, who posted a quick eight points in the opening minutes. The two teams would trade blows for much of the quarter, with neither finding much separation on the scoreboard. The Celtics withstood a flurry of Siakam threes late in the quarter to enter the final period trailing by six points, 82-76.
Finally, much to the excitement of the TD Garden crowd, Cardiac Kemba truly made his debut in Celtics green in the fourth quarter. He scored seven quick points and drawing his second of three charges on the night to cut the Toronto lead to two points with eight minutes left to play, trading buckets with Lowry through the middle second of the quarter. Walker compiled 11 points in just five minutes, and the Celtics regained the lead with just under six minutes to play after Hayward scored a breakaway layup off a beautiful pass from Brown.
Brown’s massive game continued down the stretch, as he blocked a Marc Gasol attempt with just over four minutes to play, setting up a Tatum triple that put the Celtics ahead by four. It was a lead that would persevere through the closing minutes: though the Raptors would continue to threaten, the Celtics made timely shots and some savvy defensive plays to hang on to the narrow lead.
Next up, the Celtics travel to New York to square off against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night at 7:30 PM on NBA TV.