The Celtics smoked the Toronto Raptors 117-94 Saturday night, and it was as casual a win as I can remember. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics came out swinging, marshalling the full complement of their forces against a Raptors team that I wasn’t full sure had any idea what they were doing.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have any fun, especially since this was my first game in person this year. I posted up in the back row of bleacher section 330, and Saturday night’s win was as easy as a Sunday morning. And for those of you keeping score at home, this is also my first time writing our 10 Takeaways, pinch-hitting in for the venerable Adam Taylor. Unceremonious wins can still be a party, so someone go get some paper plates and streamers. I’ll get the party hats.
#1 Shaking off slow starts
Just because the Raptors were on the road didn’t mean they would automatically come out sleepy. Coming off a game the night before, the Celtics were the ones who came out a bit slow, falling down 12-6 in extremely uninspiring fashion. My friend even accused me of not cheering hard enough, to which I took great offense.
The early run was fueled by (brace yourself) Jakob Poeltl dribble drives. Kristaps Porzingis struggled mightily at stepping up on Poeltl if he got a head of steam, even snagging a defensive three-second violation when he tried to overcorrect.
But then the Raptors just… stopped doing it. I’d love to say the Celtics made some sort of genius defensive adjustment, but the Raptors must have realized that it was going to be a long night if Poeltl was initiating all of their offense, and tried to get something else going. But they could get absolutely nothing else going, and the Celtics pounced.
#2 Jayson Tatum wins the game in the first quarter
Ok, maybe not quite so dramatic, but Tatum hit a couple of free throws in the final minute of the first quarter to make it 28-26 that claimed the lead for good. Despite barely scoring before this, Tatum grabbed a shovel and began furiously digging a hole next to the Raptors bench.
His reverse layup started a 14-0 run into the second quarter that saw the rest of the team shove different Raptors players into that hole. It was a rocky start, but once it was 40-26, the vibe in the stadium was completely secure.
That run also—somehow—convinced the Raptors that they had no chance of winning the game. You could feel the air go out of the Raptors game as soon as they fell down 14, and it was pretty clear that everyone other than Dennis Schroeder lost all belief in victory.
I love Dennis the Menace as much as the next guy, but the rest of the team just lost their moxie.
#3 Someone jacked up the TD Garden presentation budget
When were you guys going to tell me about the two giant light-up shamrocks that shoot FIRE during pregame? When they wheeled those things out, I was beyond confused, but man was I shocked when the pyrotechnics package started rolling.
Also, the PA announcer’s “FOR THREEEEE” playbook has expanded to potentially unsustainable levels. For those unaware, every time a player whose second initial ends with the “-ee” sound, the arena announcer will say their initials followed by “FOR THREEEEE.” An example would be a Jayson Tatum three-pointer, saying “JT FOR THREEEEE.”
But the number of players now eligible for this is approaching critical mass. We now have JT, JB, and KP eligible for “FOR THREEEE” honors, and depending on how risqué the Garden wants to get, we could potentially include Payton Pritchard. Why don’t we just go all out? Oshae Brissett? OB. Dalano Banton. DB. That could be six entire people.
#4 The dangers of vibing too hard
One of my first takeaways from the in-person experience was that Scottie Barnes is a ball of complete happiness pre-game. He was smiling the whole time, running around to teammates and attempting multiple between-the-legs dunks. It was pretty electric.
But I think the vibes may have been a little too good, because Barnes asserted his will a grand total of zero times, resorting to pull up threes and mid-ranges despite his unique physical frame and wingspan.
And it wasn’t just Barnes. The vibes flipped pretty rapidly across the board once the Raptors lost the lead. The Celtics took total control of the game in the second and third quarters, but it wasn’t like they had to bring a crowbar. Once the C’s ripped off 14 straight, the Raptors started standing around like they were watching their car get towed.
Honestly, the Celtics did exactly what I know they are capable of doing: dispatching of a discombobulated team without much stress for those in the building. But I left with more questions about the Raptors than I had going in.
#5 What even are the Raptors?
Plenty of teams—the Celtics included—struggle to nail down an identity. But there’s not knowing your identity… and then there’s whatever the heck the Raptors are doing.
What on earth even is this team? Their three best players—Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes—-all basically do the same thing, and none of them seemed particularly interested in asserting themselves. Tall, long wings are nice if they actually use that length, but all three of them just stood around, hoping the other two would pick up the slack.
I’m only going to say this once, but this team absolutely has to blow it up and rebuild around Barnes. Sure, this team is talented enough to make a Play-In game, but I assure you they are going nowhere fast with this core.
#6 The glory of the Jrue Holiday-Kristaps Porzingis pick-and-roll
Porzingis is a colossal human being, and Holiday is one of the smartest players in the NBA. In the 3rd quarter, the Celtics ran several clear-outs to isolate the two on a wing, but this time the two got it going in transition. Good luck stopping that.
Remember when the Damian Lillard trade happened? The NBA media couldn’t get enough of the theoretical greatness of the Dame-Giannis pick-and-roll. Well, the Bucks can have their fun (along with their 5-4 record), because we have our own one-two uppercut.
#7 Payton Pritchard timeout dribble clinic
One of the other things you only get to see in person, but Pritchard loves to put on a little dribble show during timeouts while the team is talking. He was doing this super-tight-dribble in-and-out between-the-legs thing during one timeout, and it just makes you marvel at the talent of NBA players. I couldn’t dream of doing that, and Pritchard is the Celtics’ 7th man.
During another timeout, Pritchard was putting together between-the-legs and behind-the-back combos like it was his job. He was so committed to the grind that when Assistant Coach Tony Dobbins walked up to him, presumably to talk about… the game, Pritchard continued dribbling exclusively behind his back, as Dobbins was crowding the space in front of him.
I just hope he’s not missing anything important.
#8 Hauser continues to snipe
A lot was made of Pritchard’s potential upside this season, but I think Sam Hauser might just be what fans were looking for off the bench. Saturday night, Hauser hit his first three triples, going 4-6 in total for a crisp 12 points. Nice work.
Despite much talk about the lack of bench production early on, Hauser has quietly put together an excellent season from beyond the arc. He’s no civ on defense either, but beyond all of that, he has been hitting threes at an incredible 45 percent clip.
The Celtics seem to be using him as Tatum’s first sub sometime in the first quarter, and has scored 10+ in five of his last six games. That is what I am talking about. You can never have enough dudes who can hit a three in a pinch, and Hauser will be a certified asset if he can stay hot.
#9 JT-JB Lob City
I mean, come on man. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.
I don’t have any analysis to share about this play, except that every time Tatum and Brown throw lobs to each other I freak out, before shedding a single, reflective tear.
Plays like this make me realize how important those two guys are to me. It’s one of the few homegrown duos in the NBA, and I want nothing more than to see those guys grow old together. For a long time, the Celtics tried to build a team with Tatum and Brown as part of the system.
It’s been a long road, but it’s pretty clear they are the system. The season will have a lot of ups and downs, but whenever it gets bad, remember how awesome a JT-JB lob is.
#10 Stringing wins together
Basketball is about doing two things in a row. If you can get two stops, great defense. Two buckets, you’re starting a run. Two good quarters is a solid half, and two good halves is a won game.
There’s a reason we measure success in sports by whether or not a team is above or below .500. Any team can win every other game, but if the Celtics want to separate themselves from the pack, they’ll have to be able to string wins together and create a cushion against calamity.
A back-to-back is never fun for the players, but showing up and taking care of business twice in two days is how it’s done. Unless the Celtics plan to be the overall one-seed in the league, the playoffs will literally require winning multiple games in a row. So it’s good to get practice now.
Putting it on cruise control is nice, and the Celtics managed to go full self-driving mode the last two days. (Fist pump)
#11 (Bonus) Go see a game in person
If you are able, I implore you to go see a game at TD Garden this year. It just rocks. Yeah, that’s all I have to say about that. Everyone have a lovely rest of your Sunday.