The Celtics improved to 2-0 in their in-season competition with a hard-fought 108-105 victory over the Raptors on Friday.
Here are the takeaways.
1. The Celtics have won enough recently that we don’t need to start with the game. Let’s talk first about the court.
The in-season tournament has produced many cool designs, and the Raptors’ classy black-and-gold floor looked great. At times, Raptors players were a little confusing to watch since their jerseys matched the floor, but that’s a minor issue.
What the NBA absolutely cannot allow is a safety hazard, and Friday’s court appeared to be one. Multiple players slipped multiple times on the floor in ways that looked nothing like the normal sweat spots of an NBA game. Most disturbing: On the last important play — an inbounds pass for the Celtics with eight seconds remaining — Jaylen Brown slipped and appeared to pull something in his groin.
Whether or not Brown is fine going forward is beside the point (and there’s no guarantee he will be). This can’t happen! The league is trying to show potential broadcast partners a fun, well-branded new product, and that’s clearly a positive, but doing so can’t put players at risk. These special courts are eye-catching and generate some buzz on their own, but the tone will shift quickly if players start getting hurt, and doubly so if the player is as good as Jaylen Brown.
The NBA might have something percolating with the in-season tournament. The least the league can do — literally, the least — is make sure the floors are safe, and it needs to do so before its fun little side-show tournament affects the real thing at the end of the year.
2. The Celtics looked like they were floundering a bit in the fourth quarter, and Friday’s result appeared very much in doubt down the stretch. A couple of things happened that showed the Celtics’ resilience and improved roster, however.
First, the Celtics took advantage of their size, forcing several uncomfortable switches for the Raptors including Dennis Schröder (more on him in a minute) on Kristaps Porzingis as the Celtics traded baskets with the Raptors and kept pace.
Second, they started executing effectively again at exactly the right time after the Raptors sped them up for nearly two quarters. With the game tied in the final minute, Jrue Holiday backed a defender down and fired a pass to the corner, where Derrick White buried the triple.
The Celtics no longer need to rely on mismatches or isolation basketball. Mismatches abound in all of their best lineups, which means simple execution should — on almost any evening — result in a great look.
3. Before he got hurt, Brown played a really solid game — a team-high 23 points on efficient 9-for-14 shooting, including a big layup down the stretch against Jakob Poeltl. Interestingly, Brown seemed to take his matchup with Schröder personally whenever he had an opportunity to do so. Brown backed his former teammate down with enthusiasm and sent Schröder packing with one particularly emphatic blocked shot.
4. Pascal Siakam did the Celtics an enormous favor by committing three fouls in the first quarter. To double the issue for the Raptors, Siakam called for a challenge on the third one, which the Raptors lost (thereby costing them both their challenge and a timeout). With Siakam sidelined for much of the first half, the Celtics built a 16-point halftime lead.
With Siakam back in the lineup in the second half, the Raptors rallied back and took the lead multiple times. He finished the game +17 even though the Raptors lost by three.
5. Incidentally, after seeing Jrue Holiday limit Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, and countless other stars who ostensibly would be mismatches, we may have found one player who he struggles to guard. Holiday can push back against stronger defenders without issue, but Siakam’s slithery length and touch gave him fits.
Watching a player get the best of Holiday’s rock-solid defense was jarring, which is to say it hammered home how elite he has been on that end of the floor every other night.
6. Kristaps Porzingis had an enormously impactful game: 14 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. The Raptors attacked him repeatedly, which was gutsy but foolish — he played a big role in limiting Toronto around the rim. His two-way performance has been revelatory this season.
7. Less great on the Porzingis front: He picked up his seventh technical of the season arguing the lack of a call in the second half. Before Wednesday’s game against the Sixers, Porzingis told reporters technicals are “definitely something I’m working on.”
“This is a little bit uncharacteristic for me, that many that early, but I want to blame that on the passion,” Porzingis said. “I’m here playing and enjoying playing with this team. … There’s a couple I should have avoided, and I will going forward.”
Porzingis noted that the technicals he received from hanging on the rim were “nonsense” and while we would largely agree, Friday’s call falls into the category that Porzingis probably should have avoided. He is now nine technicals away from a one-game suspension. The date is Nov. 17.
8. Tatum had an off night (17 points and a brutal 1-for-11 performance from behind the arc), which flies completely off the radar given both the quality of the win and the fact that seven Celtics players scored in double figures to make up the difference.
Tatum did, however, dap up Drake postgame.
9. The Celtics are now 2-0 in their in-season tournament’s group play with a point differential of +17. They have two more games in their group stage — one each against the Magic (who are good this year) and the Bulls (who are imploding). The Celtics lead Group C at 2-0, while the Nets are 2-1. The Magic are 1-1, and the Bulls are 0-2.
A win over the Magic would ensure the Celtics will move on, but they are in good standing either way.
10. Setting aside the in-season tournament, the Celtics will wrap up their road trip with a back-to-back against the Grizzlies and Hornets on Sunday and Monday before they return home to prepare for a highly anticipated showdown against the new-look Bucks.