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Depth shines to keep streak alive: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Raptors

Boston won their ninth straight game behind some big performances off the bench

Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1. In the Smith House for a long time, we had Disney movies on repeat. Any parent with young kids knows this phenomenon. They finish a movie and immediately restart it. A few days in, you know the whole thing by heart. A favorite for a while in our house was Finding Nemo. One of the lines that has forever stuck from that movie is “Just keep swimming”.

That’s what the Boston Celtics did at the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. They just kept swimming.

Boston had no business winning this game. Jayson Tatum sat out. Marcus Smart and Rob Williams left with injuries at halftime. Derrick White exited the game in the fourth quarter due to a tweak.

Didn’t matter. The Celtics played the full 48 and came away with a ninth consecutive victory.

Just keep swimming.

2. With Jayson Tatum sitting out due to left wrist soreness, but really a rest day, Jaylen Brown had to carry the heaviest burden for the Celtics. It was no surprise Brown was up the task scoring-wise. He’s been that guy for a long while now. But Brown made some big plays as a playmaker too, and that helped his teammates get in the rhythm they needed to bring this win home.

Let’s start with a scoring play. Opponents know Brown wants to get to that midrange pullup. He’s adding some craft to those looks now. He sets up Gary Trent Jr. with the dribble series, before going up and under to draw the trip and the and-1:

Brown’s patience here is outstanding. He gets to the middle in transition and draws the extra defender to get Malcolm Brogdon a good look:

Tatum and Al Horford have good chemistry in the screen game. Brown can work with Horford too. He rejects the screen, but still draws the second defender before pitching it out to Horford:

This clip starts with a nice contest from Luke Kornet, who gave Boston good minutes in the second half, but the real watch is Brown. His handle is ever-improving, as witnessed by this inside-out dribble in transition:

This was the Celtics set to open the fourth quarter. The initial action didn’t really develop as drawn up, but Scottie Barnes is about a half-step too far from Brown in the corner:

3. Jaylen Brown couldn’t do it all himself. Grant Williams scored a regular season career-high with 25 points. Unlike his explosion against the Milwaukee Bucks in last season’s playoffs, Williams wasn’t just drilling spot-up three after spot-up three. There were some of those, of course. This one came after a nice relocation and fake:

The Raptors are in one of their flowing zones here. Williams doesn’t wait for the zone to settle. He immediately drives the gap for the layup:

Jayson Tatum apparently loaned his side-step triple to Williams for the night:

This is opportunistic basketball here. Williams sprints the floor and Marcus Smart drops the perfect pass on him. Williams doesn’t handle it clean, but is still able to lay it in:

4. This was another big night for Malcolm Brogdon, in a string of big nights. After Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Brogdon is the best scorer on the roster. When one of the Jays is out, he needs to step up. When multiple guys are down, he needs to step up even more.

Brogdon is really good when he gets downhill and can get a shoulder into his defender. Here, he uses that technique to keep Chris Boucher off his shot:

Brogdon goes a good job using the Blake Griffin screen here. Scottie Barnes goes under it, for whatever reason, then he just dies on the pick as Griffin doesn’t move. Brogdon takes a sideways dribble and drills the shot:

On the next trip, Brogdon rocks Barnes back just enough with his dribble to get to the step-back jumper:

Something that has stood out with Brogdon watching him an every-game basis is his understanding of the clock. He’s never rushed as the shot-clock ticks down. Brogdon takes his time to get to the shot he wants to beat the clock:

5. During the game, the already shorthanded Celtics lost two more starters. Rob Williams was he first to get hurt. Jaylen Brown fell into Williams surgically repaired left knee. Williams went down briefly, but stayed in. After exiting for his normal rest, Williams returned and seemed to be ok for the rest of the first half. He didn’t return after halftime, but postgame, Joe Mazzulla said that was precautionary.

Late in the first half, Marcus Smart came off a screen and badly rolled his right ankle, while also seeming to wrench his right knee. Smart’s knee is fine and x-rays on his ankle were negative. Mazzulla said Smart would be considered day-to-day, after the point guard missed the second half.

Late in the game, Derrick White tweaked his right knee on a drive. Mazzulla said White is fine. It sounds like he could have returned, but Boston was doing alright without him and played it out with White on the bench.

6. The player who might have kept even a fully healthy Derrick White on the bench was Payton Pritchard. Pressed into action, Pritchard delivered four threes and some pretty good defense in the fourth quarter to help lift Boston to the win.

Pritchard first three came from some confusion from the Raptors. Thaddeus Young calls out a switch-back to Malachi Flynn, but Flynn never gets back to Pritchard, who drilled the triple:

Again, teams should get up on Pritchard. Pascal Siakam lays back as Pritchard comes off the DHO from Grant Williams. That’s too much space for the shooter:

Playing 5-on-4 in transition, Pritchard fills middle and gets to the top of the arc:

This one ended up being the game-winner for Boston. Gary Trent is a step slow getting out to Pritchard, who is a few feet behind the arc. But feeling it like he was, this one was definitely going up, no matter how deep Pritchard was on the shot:

Pritchard is the definition of “stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready”. He’s been terrific for Boston all season long with very inconsistent playing time. But nights like this one are why the Celtics aren’t moving Pritchard anytime soon. This is also the kind of showing that should earn Pritchard minutes, even when others are healthy. At least until Sam Hauser rediscovers his missing jumper.

7. Blake Griffin’s box score doesn’t show much in his eight minutes of play. But the box score hardly tells the story. Griffin made some major impact plays. This one came right after the Celtics had taken the lead, and it helped Boston really get rolling.

The initial rotation and contest are great. Then Griffin is able to get the strip before going all out to recover the loose ball:

Add in some good positional defense and taking a big charge, and you had a really productive stint for the veteran big man. With a back-to-back looming to open the week, we’re guessing we’ll see more of Griffin over the next couple of games.

8. Derrick White is giving up somewhere between six and seven inches to Chris Boucher. Doesn’t matter to one of the best shot-blocking guards in the NBA:

On the other end, White has such a soft touch on his floater:

9. The end of this game was pretty ridiculous. Payton Pritchard’s last three, as shown above, gave the Celtics a 106-103 lead. Pascal Siakam drew a foul on Toronto’s next possession and hit 1-of-2 free throws to draw the Raptors within two with 1:15 to play.

No one scored again.

The Celtics missed two shots and turned it over twice. (The first turnover when Pritchard got trapped in front of the Boston bench was bad. Like REALLY bad. Just use a timeout when you get trapped!)

The Raptors missed two layups during the end-game sequence. The second one came after Al Horford had a monster contest at the rim. Then, with the Raptors having one more shot to tie or take the lead, the Celtics were all over his spin-dribble (like they have been since before the bubble playoffs), and Horford stole it to seal it.

It was the silliest of silly finishes, but the good guys came out on top.

10. Boston heads north to south to finish up this three-game road trip. They’ve got a back-to-back set in Orlando and in Miami on Monday and Tuesday.

The Celtics are a banged-up group. It’s probably a good bet that Marcus Smart will miss some time. It’s unclear if Rob Williams will need a couple of days off or not. It’s also worth monitoring Derrick White’s status also, just to be safe. Al Horford will probably sit out one end of the back-to-back too.

Some guys are going to have to step up this week. This showing in Toronto was just another example that they will. Boston has depth. Lots of it. And they’re full of love and trust for each other. That’ll carry them just as much as their superstars do.

We’ll find out Monday night if the Celtics can stretch the win streak to double-figures. No matter who plays and who doesn’t, it’s probably wise to not bet against Boston. Just keep swimming.

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