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Confidence game: Celtics young guns step up against Raptors

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Jayson Tatum scored 40, but it was 60 points off the bench that highlights the win over Toronto.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images

“Tatum was tremendous tonight, but we had a lot of really good performances,” head coach Brad Stevens said after Jayson Tatum finished with 40 points in a 126-114 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Tatum finished one point shy of another career high and his performance--along with the rise of fellow franchise cornerstone, Jaylen Brown--throughout the start of the season has been the headline of the year so far. However, it’s been the uneven development of a second unit primarily made up of rookies and sophomores that has frustrated the fans. On Monday night on the back end of a back-to-back, everything seemed to come together.

“I see these guys every day, so my data is not just game nights. I see how they work. I see what they do pre-practice. I see what they do during practice. Our evaluation as coaches is not based on just the fourteen minutes somebody plays in the game. It’s the whole work,” Stevens said after the Celtics bench contributed 60 points.

With Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague nursing nagging injuries, that opened up an even bigger role for Payton Pritchard. Pritchard had already been averaging 22 minutes per game and seemed like the logical point guard to start in Smart’s place; Stevens instead opted to use Tremont Waters at the tip. For Pritchard, starting or not, he still focused on making an impact for his team.

I stay ready for any opportunity that comes my way. At the end of the day, I just want to help my team win like I did tonight. Obviously, each and every night is going to be a different night, but I’m going to find little ways that I can be difficult offensively, whatever it is to help my team that night. So for me, it’s just staying prepared to do my work everyday and be mentally and physically locked in,” Pritchard said after scoring 23 points and dishing out eight assists.

The rookie has quickly become a fan and teammate favorite. After the game, Brown posted this video to his Instagram:

It was just FastPP who had his best game of the season. Semi Ojeleye chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds, including 3-for-5 from behind the arc. Ojeleye started the second half in place of Daniel Theis in what was Stevens’ first departure from the double bigs lineup he’s used to start halves with. “He’s making the open shots. He’s been very dependable. Two straight really big performances from him,” Stevens said.

The Celtic that most embodies the growing pains of the early regular season schedule might be Grant Williams. After a successful stint in the bubble, Williams was expected to be a key contributor off the bench and even a possible starter because of his versatility as a defender and ability to do all the little things. Unfortunately, his spotty playing time (that has included a DNP-CD) has been marred by missed defensive rotations and ugly mistakes in key moments of games.

Against the Raptors, he played with a swagger that hasn’t really been seen this season. Disregard the three-point shooting (3-for-4 from behind the arc with a total 14 points on the night) or the three blocked shots. For Williams, it was his confident play that made the biggest difference. “Honestly, it just comes down to playing basketball. Sometimes, I get in my own head in focusing too much on the role that I’m in and that’s something that coming into this year, I told myself I wasn’t gonna do,” Williams said after the game.

There were certainly be more bumps and bruises as this grueling regular season schedule rolls on. Rookies will be rookies. Sophomores will suffer slumps. Even in this game, the bench nearly coughed up a 26-point lead. However, this win felt like a building block with the Celtics going back to Boston soon for an extended homestand. There’s one last stop, Miami, against a Heat team that capitalized on the Celtics’ lack of poise in the Eastern Conference Finals. For last night to truly matter, they have to bring the same intensity and focus to South Beach to close out the road trip.