After a quick look at the box score of the Celtics’ 120-106 win over the Raptors, you might be surprised that Semi Ojeleye and Payton Pritchard outscored Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The pair combined for 44 points in large part to their hot shooting from behind the arc (each hit 6-of-8). It’s the first time in Boston’s history that two teammates have hit six or more threes in a game.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the Celtics had 30 assists on 39 made field goals. That’s the second most of the season and more importantly, it was fueled by Tatum (9) and Brown (10).
For most of the game, Nick Nurse and the Raptors tried to take Boston’s dynamic duo out of the offense. The pair combined for only eleven shot attempts in the first half with Toronto throwing multiple defenders at them at every turn. Whether they were doubled in the post or Toronto overloaded the ball side of the floor, Tatum and Brown consistently found open shooters, primarly in the corners.
Those passes have to be on time and on target against a Toronto team that’s big and mobile. It’s a necessary evolution in the young superstars’ development and one not lost on their teammates. “For the team, just seeing Jayson and Jaylen mature so much that they can impact the game whether they’re scoring or not, that to me is a sign of them taking that huge leap and they took everybody with them by doing that,” Ojeleye said after scoring a career high 24 points.
Semi Ojeleye says that Jaylen and Jayson's ability to impact the game without scoring is "the sign of them taking that huge leap" pic.twitter.com/enqdrKAJhM— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 12, 2021
The Celtics rank 28th in the league in assists at 22 per game and 29th in potential assists at 40.2. Despite that, they still boast a top-10 offense with isolation artists like Brown and Tatum, but for the team to ultimately take the next step, they have to be able to rely on their supporting cast.
“The two things that have kept me up at night are our lack of ball movement and the inconsistency of our defense. I’d like to string together a few weeks, but it’s clearly encouraging,” head coach Brad Stevens said of his team’s effort and execution Thursday night.
Sleep well, Brad. The team’s performance also laid some of the fans’ angst over Kemba Walker’s slow start to rest. In the final two games of the west coast trip, Walker shot an ugly 6-for-32 in winnable games in Phoenix and Utah. Back at TD Garden, he feasted on the space created by Tatum and Brown, hitting 5-of-8 three pointers and looking comfortable off the ball. It was just six months ago that Nurse was scheming against him in the Eastern Conference semis.
"They really wanted to get me involved tonight, they know I've been struggling"— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 12, 2021
Kemba Walker offered up high praise for Jaylen & Jayson pic.twitter.com/8Bap7o11yv
“It just makes the game a lot easier. Those guys are so talented. There’s going to be so much attention. They just made the right plays tonight. They are very capable of that. They are two special guys. They really wanted to get guys involved, especially me,” Kemba Walker said. “They really wanted to get me involved. They know I’ve been struggling. Big ups to those guys, for real.”