The Boston Celtics defeated the Toronto Raptors in a 132-125 shoot out on Thursday in their final contest before the All-Star break, led by Jayson Tatum’s 27-point outpouring.
Here’s what transpired.
The big picture
The Celtics held a very short-handed Raptors squad at arm’s length for most of the second half on Thursday, getting just enough baskets and free throws down the stretch to stymy Toronto’s 3-point barrage.
Boston will enter the All-Star break two games over .500 after a four-game winning streak.
Star of the game
Grant Williams — 17 points, 7-for-9 shooting, 3-for-4 from three
Williams has had some struggles this season, but Thursday’s game was a nice bounce-back performance. He buried three 3-pointers, tossed in a put-back, and was a reliable offensive option as part of a bench unit that boosted the Celtics all night.
“I came in just focused and prepared, and you never know when your number is going to be called,” Williams said. “So Brad entrusted me tonight and threw me in there and I was able to perform at the level we needed.”
The best player on the floor was Jayson Tatum, but a 27-point night and big buckets down the stretch are the baseline expectation from him at this point.
What it means
The Raptors made it more interesting than the Celtics would have liked, but eventually the Celtics pulled away and claimed their fourth win in a row. After last week’s humiliating loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Brad Stevens said the next four games were pivotal for his squad, and they won all four.
“After the game in Atlanta, when you looked in everybody’s eyes, we talked about how these next four games are important, and you knew we were going to be ready,” Stevens said on Thursday. “And I think that is a sign of a team that’s going to stay together, and I think it stems from our best players embraced that.
“I’ve heard Kemba say it multiple times this week: ‘Nobody’s going on break until we go on break.’ And I thought that that was really important. So you learn a lot about yourself in those moments.”
The Celtics weren’t always perfect, but they still passed the test with high marks.
1. The Raptors bombed away from 3-point range, making a staggering 21-for-49 from deep. Ordinarily, that would doom an opponent, but the Celtics outshot the Raptors at the free-throw line, going 29-for-40. Jaylen Brown led the way, finishing 11-for-16 from the line, but the Celtics as a whole were aggressive drawing fouls.
2. The Celtics continue to struggle guarding pick-and-pop bigs, as Chris Boucher made five of his nine 3-point attempts. The Celtics need to figure out a way to defend bigs who can stretch the floor a little better — when the opposing center can space to the 3-point line, it puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the defense.
3. Four members of the Celtics bench — Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and Jeff Teague — pitched in 51 points. Over the last week, Tatum and Brown have looked a little fatigued, so getting contributions from the second unit was crucial as the Celtics pulled themselves back above .500.
“I think we’ve got some good players on the bench that can play at a high level, and I think we’re starting to get some continuity,” Teague said. “We’re playing off one another really well. I like playing with Payton and Rob, and I think they have a really good connection. And me and Payton have some synergy out there from practicing and playing in the beginning of the season. So I feel comfortable with those guys and I think they’re starting to get comfortable with me, and I think the second unit is starting to flow a little bit.”
4. Payton Pritchard seems to be hitting 3-pointers again, which is big for the Celtics. Jeff Teague hasn’t always looked viable (although he has played well recently) and Marcus Smart remains out, opening up a need at back-up point guard. When he’s making 3-pointers, Pritchard offers reliable production and floor spacing, which is important.
5. With a charge taken in the fourth quarter, Kemba Walker moved into a tie for sixth in the NBA in charges drawn. He has played fewer games than any of the players above him.
Who has the most? To no one’s surprise, the answer is one of Walker’s opponents on Thursday: Kyle Lowry.
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