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Ironclad defense leads Boston Celtics to 3-2 series advantage over Toronto Raptors, 111-89

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The Celtics controlled the game from start to finish, and now sit just one victory away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After an arduous pair of games that saw the Toronto Raptors even up the Eastern Conference Semifinals at two games apiece, the Boston Celtics entered tonight’s Game 5 needing to regain momentum. In demolishing the Raptors by 22 points, 111 to 89, Brad Stevens and the Celtics found all that momentum and more. Now, they sit just one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals once again.

After a difficult Game 4 performance that saw him shoot just 4-of-18 from the field, Jaylen Brown led all scorers in Game 5 with 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Kemba Walker supplemented him with 21 points, but the real story was the Boston defense, who blocked six shots and held the Raptors to just 39% shooting from the floor. The only Raptor who seemed to find any rhythm may have been Fred VanVleet, who led Toronto with 18 points, while Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry combined for just 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting. This was Boston’s game from start to finish.

Brown opened all scoring by connecting on a three-point attempt from the wing, and later in the quarter threw down a massive dunk in traffic over a hapless OG Anunoby. Not everything found the bottom of the net — he shot 2-of-5 in the first quarter — but he found good looks, created a rhythm for himself and helped spark the Celtics with his aggressiveness. Tough defense created fast break opportunities, and the Celtics were able to enforce their will on Toronto to begin the game. Boston led by as much as 16, and ended the quarter leading 25-11.

Early on in the second quarter, Toronto started to find a bit of an offensive rhythm. They weren’t going to shoot 20% from the floor for the entire game, after all. But while the resurgence seemed inevitable, the Celtics didn’t allow the Raptors to gain a lot of ground early. Boston continued to find good looks, and their open attempts started to find paydirt more often, giving Toronto few opportunities to gain much ground.

Notably, the Raptors — one of the league’s best teams in transition — struggled to make anything happen on the fast break. Without the transition opportunities, and with their halfcourt offense struggling to create anything, the Toronto offense just seemed dead in the water. Boston’s lead would crack the 20-point threshold on a Tatum three-pointer with about five minutes remaining in the half, and would head into the break with a commanding 62-35 advantage.

Toronto opened the second half with some energy, kicking off the third quarter with six straight points from Siakam. Coach Nick Nurse continued his tinkering ways, rolling out a bizarre lineup with Anunoby as the de facto center and deploying a 2-2-1 press defense. While the offense started to come a little more naturally, the changes didn’t help stem the tide of Boston buckets. The Celtics continued to attack the rim with ease, and instead of dwindling, the lead grew to as high as 30 as the quarter wore on. Toronto earned back just three points total in the quarter, and the Celtics entered the final frame leading 87-63.

Frankly, the fourth quarter was just not that noteworthy. Stevens kept the Celtics’ starters in through much of the quarter to hold the Raptors at arm’s length, while the Raptors turned to their bench with just under seven minutes to play after a visibly frustrated Nurse picked up a technical foul during a commercial break for arguing with the referees. Toronto’s bench did their best to compete — including, curiously, breaking out a full-court press — but the Celtics’ bench checked in with three minutes to play and successfully bled out the clock.

Next up, the Celtics will look to put the series away “at home” (such as it is) against the Raptors this coming Wednesday at 6:40 PM EST on ESPN.