Joe Mazzulla and the Boston Celtics continued their dominance over the Toronto Raptors in Friday night’s 108-105 win. Mazzulla is now 6-0 in his head coaching career against the Raptors.
With the win, the Celtics advanced to 2-0 in Group Play of the inaugural In-Season Tournament with head-to-head victories over Brooklyn and Toronto. The Celtics are the only undefeated team in their group and have the best point differential (+17).
The point differential is significant because point differential during Group Play games is the second tie-breaker, after head-to-head record.
Jaylen Brown (illness) and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday night’s win over the 76ers and made their presence felt. Porzingis finished the night with 14 points on 6-of-13 (46.2%) shooting, a season-high 12 boards, five assists (also a season-high), and three blocks.
Brown finished the night with a team-high 23 points on 9-of-14 (64.3%) shooting, three boards, four assists, and a block.
The ball movement by the Celtics was phenomenal all night long. The C’s racked up 29 assists on 42 makes (69.0%), as they were constantly looking for the extra pass, and it paid off, leading to good looks and a balanced scoring attack, with seven of the eight Celtics that checked into the game finished with double-figures.
The balanced scoring was especially important, considering the slow night from Jayson Tatum, who totaled just 17 points on 8-of-22 (36.4%) shooting.
Overall, it was a gutsy win for the Celtics, who continue to find different ways to win games. Here are three takeaways as the Celtics improved their win streak to five games, matching their season-high.
Another blown double-digit lead
Led by Gary Trent Jr., the Raptors came out swinging in the first quarter, pouring in 32 points on a stout Boston defense. Toronto did a nice job getting inside in the first quarter, scoring 11 of their 14 makes in the paint, eight of which came in the restricted area.
However, the Celtics adjusted in the second quarter. Making Toronto uncomfortable and taking away the inside. The C’s held Toronto to just 17 points, tied for the fewest allowed in a single quarter this season, on 6-of-21 (28.6%) shooting from the field, and forced five turnovers, which they turned into nine points on the other end.
Pascal Siakim, who finished with a game-high +17 in the loss, did not appear in the second quarter due to recording three fouls in the first quarter, and the Celtics took advantage of the minutes he was off the floor.
The constant stops on the defensive end helped the offense find their grove, as they totaled 39 points in the second frame on 15-of-24 (62.5%) shooting from the field and 5-of-10 (50.0%) from deep.
The dominant second quarter propelled a 16-point halftime lead for the C’s, a lead the Raptors quickly erased as they stormed back, outscoring the Celtics 32-19 in the third quarter. In total, the Celtics were outscored 56-43 in the second half.
The 16-point blown lead comes on the heels of a 17-point blown by the Celtics on Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Though the Celtics won both games, the blown leads are a concern and are an issue the Celtics will need to iron out moving forward.
The bench continues to make a positive impact
The Celtics’ bench continued to provide quality minutes on Friday night. Sam Hauser, Al Horford, and Payton Pritchard were the names Mazzulla called upon off the bench, and they each left their mark on the game.
It was Hauser who once again provided an early spark for the Celtics. With the C’s missing a lot of open threes in the opening frame, Hauser restored order.
The 25-year-old knocked down two threes in the opening frame on 50% shooting. Hauser also had a three waived off after an official review determined he released the ball after the shot clock had expired.
Hauser finished the night with 11 points on 4-of-7 (57.1%) shooting, snagged three boards, and dished out three assists.
After saving the day in Philly on Wednesday night, Horford did it again on Friday night, knocking down clutch back-to-back threes in the fourth quarter.
The ageless wonder finished with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting (80%) shooting, grabbed four rebounds and had two assists. Horford’s threes came at a key spot after Boston had gone through a stretch of some bad offensive possessions.
Pritchard finished the night with a team-high +11 plus-minus.
Boston’s bench totaled 27 points on Friday night, outscoring Toronto’s bench by seven.
Mazzulla mentioned following Wednesday's win over the 76ers that he felt Boston’s second unit was starting to develop an identity, and they took a step in the right in that regard on Friday night.
Getting it done in the clutch
Let’s face it – the Celtics did not play their best basketball on Friday night, something Mazzulla acknowledged after the game.
However, despite the off night, the Celtics stepped up and executed at their highest level of the night when it mattered most.
Although the Celtics only received two points on 1-of-6 (16.7%) shooting in the fourth quarter from Tatum, they found a way to win due to their execution on both ends of the floor, outscoring Toronto 9-4 in the final two minutes.
It was the new guys, Porzingis and Holiday, who made key plays down the stretch for the Celtics before White put the Raptors to bed.
It’s been well-documented how much closing out games has been an issue for the Celtics in years past, but through the first 12 games of the season, it appears to be a strength of the new-look Celtics.