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Role players carry Boston to victory: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Raptors

The guys in green got big performances from their non-stars to get back over .500

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

1. For a few years, when the Celtics have gotten a road win, it’s generally been because Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown had a big game. Or it might have been Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward stepping up. Not in this one. Boston won this game in Toronto because of their role players.

With Tatum struggling to find his shot and Brown still on limited minutes, the other Celtics stepped up. In all, five players scored in double-figures, while eight of the nine guys who got minutes contributed to the win.

Ime Udoka said postgame that the constant mixing and matching of lineups due to injuries and illnesses isn’t ideal, but should pay off in the long run. Udoka said his reserves are getting “invaluable experience” due to the near-nightly absences of rotation players.

2. Marcus Smart led the charge of role players stepping forward. Smart played an inside-out game, where he started by attacking the rim and then let his jumper come later. This was a good attack in transition for an and-1. Smart knows Isaac Bonga can’t guard him off the dribble. He also knows the Raptors don’t have a shot-blocker in the game:

This is good patience by Smart in pick-and-roll with Al Horford. Smart holds the dribble for one extra bounce to open up Horford for the easy hook that gets goaltended:

To open the fourth quarter, Smart is on the attack again. He’s decisive here and goes right off the catch:

3. Postgame, Marcus Smart called out Josh Richardson for stepping up off the bench. For his part, Richardson admitted to being tired in his first game back after being out for nearly a week due to having the flu. But Richardson knew he had to deliver when his number was called.

Normally, Richardson would do one of three things here: He’d shoot himself, drive the closeout or swing the ball to Jayson Tatum. Instead, Richardson sees Fred VanVleet had to drop to take away Romeo Langford’s cut, so he skips it to Smart:

Late in the game, with Boston trying to put it away, Richardson did a nice job in transition. He doesn’t force things, but uses Enes Kanter as an impromptu screener to get to the rim:

This play starts with Richardson making a nice cut. When the Raptors close him off, he makes the good pass back to Jaylen Brown for the layup:

4. Al Horford didn’t have any real signature highlight clips in this game. He was simply steady, solid Al Horford again. Horford scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also ceded the final 13:30 of the game to Enes Kanter, who was rolling and deserved to play down the stretch.

We’ve said it before, the Celtics are lucky to have Horford. Ime Udoka called him out as one of the team’s more vocal leaders recently, even if he’s not a yeller or screamer. The trade to reacquire Horford has already proven to be a winner for Boston.

5. Enes Kanter probably should have closed the game on Friday at San Antonio. He’d earned that with his play to get Boston back in that game. Against Toronto, Ime Udoka gave him the chance and Kanter repaid that faith by playing well until the end.

It started early for Kanter, as he came up with this nice steal early in the second quarter:

The solid play continued to end of the game, as Kanter finished off this and-1 late in the fourth quarter:

Kanter, who will change his surname to Freedom on Monday, hasn’t played much this season. But Udoka said Kanter has stayed ready and he’s contributed as injuries and illness have hit the frontcourt in recent weeks.

6. Grant Williams has developed into one of the Celtics most-consistent players. He’s reliably solid on defense, and has become a knockdown shooter from the outside. Williams said he lost weight this offseason to be able to be quicker and a more versatile defender. This play is a good example, as Williams slides over to block Pascal Siakam at the rim:

Williams is probably the team’s best cutter. He does a good job here of working the baseline while Marcus Smart plays out of the post, which is some of Boston’s best offense. The end result is Williams gets an easy layup:

How reliable is Williams’ three-point shot now? Enough so that Ime Udoka is drawing up ATO plays to get him jumpers. This is beautiful design as Al Horford working the middle of the paint sucks in Williams’ defender, while Jayson Tatum reads it happening and hits Williams in the corner:

For the season, Williams is up to 43.1% from behind the arc, including an excellent 52.8% from the corners.

7. Romeo Langford is going to be a great barometer for understanding which fans watch games and which ones only check the box scores. Langford is continually showing up in ways stats won’t always show, at least not traditional ones. He’s fighting for rebounds and he’s starting to hit his jumper consistently too (42.9% from three). Langford has to improve his finishing, but once that comes, Boston will have a pretty complete reserve wing.

8. As mentioned above, Romeo Langford is hitting his three-pointers this year. That’s given Jayson Tatum confidence in making these sorts of drive-and-kick passes:

It was another miserable shooting night for Tatum, so he transitioned into playmaking. Tatum finished with 10 assists. Late in the game, he found Marcus Smart twice for key three-pointers. On this play, Tatum rejects the screen to get to the paint to open up Smart:

The nice thing about this play is Tatum doesn’t hold the ball and survey the defense for multiple seconds. He catches it and goes right into an attacking move before kicking it to Smart again:

9. One negative from this win is that Payton Pritchard didn’t take advantage of seeing real minutes. With Dennis Schroder out due to a sprained ankle, Pritchard played 10 minutes. He went 0-for-3 from the floor with no assists. Pritchard also looked overwhelmed a couple of times on defense.

Due to Boston’s depth at point guard and on the wing, minutes have been hard to come by for Pritchard and fellow sophomore Aaron Nesmith. But neither has done enough with their limited minutes to earn more regular time. It’s still too early to call either player a bust, but it’s disappointing that the major steps forward from Summer League haven’t translated into the season.

10. The Celtics now have a couple of days off. That will give Dennis Schroder and Robert Williams time to recover. Barring any new injuries or illnesses, Boston may be at full strength for a home game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

That’s a big game, as the Celtics won’t play in Boston again until December 13th. Including a five-game west coast swing, the guys in green are playing ten games in a row against potential playoff teams. We’re going to learn a lot about the 2021-22 Boston Celtics over the next few weeks.