Playing on the road, without three key rotation players, on the second night of a back-to-back, everything about Monday night’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors had the feel of a schedule loss for the Boston Celtics. Instead, the Celtics picked up their league-leading 20th win of the season in particularly gutty fashion, shrugging off a customarily tough effort from the Raptors to score a 116-110 win.
Jayson Tatum led the way with a 31-point, 12-rebound night, while Jaylen Brown (22 points) tacked on some big plays down the stretch to help the Celtics surge ahead in the second half. For the Raptors, Pascal Siakam scored 29 points (9-of-13 from the free throw line) while Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. added 21 and 20 points, respectively.
No matchup against the Nick Nurse-led Raptors ever comes easy, and this was no exception. Playing on the second half of a back-to-back without the services of Al Horford (back) and Malcolm Brogdon (illness), this was always destined to be a bit of a rock fight, and that bore out in the first quarter. Sloppy play ruled the early minutes, as neither team looked all that energized, and the Celtics entered the second quarter leading by just two, 27-25.
Notable early: VERY poor free throw shooting. Both teams opened up the game connecting on just one of their first four freebies in the opening quarter, including scoreless trips to the line from Marcus Smart and Scottie Barnes.
As the second quarter progressed, it became apparent that the Raptors were the team with fresher legs. Much of the quarter belonged to Toronto, as they pushed ahead by as many as 10 points. The Celtics’ shooting certainly helped them along; after connecting on four triples in the first quarter, the Celtics missed their first six attempts in the second before Smart finally found paydirt with just over two minutes to play in the half. Tatum followed with a three of his own moments later, and the Celtics managed to stem the bleeding for the moment, trailing by just six points at the halftime break, 62-56.
The Celtics asserted themselves as play commenced in the second half, kicking off the third quarter with a 17-5 run to put themselves back in the driver’s seat on the scoreboard. It was a gritty quarter from Tatum in particular, as he dug deep and came up with some desperately needed buckets to spark the Boston offense. He scored 17 of his 31 points on the evening in the third quarter, and the Celtics thoroughly manhandled the Raptors as a result. They outscored the Raptors 35-18 in the frame, and entered the final quarter with a double-digit advantage, 91-80.
Deserving of a shout-out this evening: Luke Kornet. With Rob Williams yet to make his return, any game where Horford sits out for rest purposes understandably becomes a bit of an adventure for this team’s frontcourt. Blake Griffin had a nice spot start, with 13 points (10 in the first half) and 2 assists in 32 minutes, but Kornet was also a notable difference-maker as the Celtics built their second-half lead. He scored 11 points in 16 minutes, including some timely buckets as the clock started to really matter.
The fourth quarter was not without drama, however. The Raptors, as always, were far too feisty to simply roll over. They didn’t make substantial inroads towards cutting the Boston lead down to size, but they didn’t allow the Celtics to put this game to bed early, either. The two teams traded punches for much of the fourth quarter, but some late-game heroics from Barnes and Trent Jr. weren’t quite enough to turn things around for the Raptors. A tip-in from Griffin with just under 30 seconds to play put the game on ice, and after some free throw shenanigans, the Celtics walked away with a hard-fought 116-110 victory.
Next up comes perhaps the most exciting matchup of the Celtics’ season thus far: a national TV battle with the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns, this Wednesday at 10 PM EST on ESPN.