After leading off their return to play with three deeply inconsistent performances, it felt like the Boston Celtics were due for a breakthrough. That’s exactly what they got on Wednesday night, as they obliterated the chippy-but-diminished Brooklyn Nets, 149-115. Jaylen Brown led the way with 21 points, and Brad Stevens expanded the bench to afford Brown (24 minutes), Jayson Tatum (18) and Kemba Walker (DNP) some valuable rest. In all, 13 Celtics took the court on the night. They left the Nets in the dust late in the first quarter and never looked back.
All five starters reached double figures in scoring, but the star of the night was undoubtedly Robert Williams III. The athletic center recorded his first appearance of the restarted regular season, and took full advantage, abusing the Nets (particularly undrafted rookie Donta Hall) to the tune of 18 points, five rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a steal. Other young Celtics joined the fun, as well. Romeo Langford saw 26 minutes of action, and his +27 in those minutes ranked second on the team. Javonte Green tacked on eight points, and Carsen Edwards connected on a pair of three-pointers. All around, it was a refreshing opportunity for the younger Celtics to see some playing time that had otherwise proven sparce.
The ragtag Nets roster served as a bit of a reprieve for the Celtics, but they’ll enjoy no such luxury tonight as they face off against Kyle Lowry and the white-hot Toronto Raptors at 8 pm EST.
While the Celtics have struggled with inconsistency in the bubble thus far, the Raptors have been flat-out dominant. They have opened the restarted season with a commanding 107-92 win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, and followed with victories over Utah and Miami to advance to 3-0. The Raptors have posted the second-best net rating (+9.1) in the bubble, and have the longest active win streak in the league, winning seven consecutive games dating back to before the season was suspended.
A major factor behind the Raptors’ success has been their tough-as-nails defense. The defending champs are one of the few teams that hasn’t suffered a defensive drop-off as scoring numbers have ballooned. If anything, they’ve gotten better — their 96.1 defensive rating leads the bubble, and they’re one of only two teams (Oklahoma City) that has managed a mark under 100.
Kyle Lowry is the engine powering this team forward, and he’s been as good as ever. His stat line of 18-10-7 with 44% three-point shooting is just absurd. Fred VanVleet was enjoying an emergent season prior to the shutdown, and has only elevated his game further upon returning. He leads Toronto in minutes (39.1), scoring (23.3) and assists (8.3), while connecting on exactly half of his three-pointers on a whopping eight attempts per game. Perhaps the only weak link in their rotation right now is Norman Powell, who has struggled to find his shot (35.5% FG%) in the bubble so far.
In other words, the Raptors look the part of a two-way powerhouse right now. They’re the healthiest they’ve been all season, and they’re playing with the swagger of reigning NBA champions. They stand to clinch the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a win tonight, and would convincingly establish themselves as the second-biggest threat in the conference after Milwaukee.
Even with a win tonight, the Celtics would need some help to leapfrog Toronto for the two-seed. It’s a bit of an unlikely goal. This is still a valuable matchup, however; a chance for the Celtics to find their groove and put the Eastern Conference’s elite on notice after having fallen just short against Milwaukee in the opener. Only four games remain before the 2019-20 NBA Playoffs finally commence, and a scoring a win against the champs would be a great way for the Celtics to build momentum heading in.
PG – Kemba Walker – Kyle Lowry
SG – Jaylen Brown – Fred VanVleet
SF – Gordon Hayward – OG Anunoby
PF – Jayson Tatum – Pascal Siakam
C – Daniel Theis – Marc Gasol
Toronto: Patrick McCaw (OUT — Knee)
How To Watch
Time – 8:00 pm EST
TV – NBC Sports Boston, TNT