Coming off an emotional win over the Warriors Thursday night and playing without Jayson Tatum (left wrist soreness), the Celtics were hoping to avoid a letdown Saturday evening in Toronto and extend their winning streak to nine games.
They did that, beating the Raptors 106-104 thanks to an impressive display of depth and a 20-8 run to start the fourth quarter. A pair of first-half injuries to Robert Williams and Marcus Smart threatened to overshadow the victory, but Boston appears to have survived those scares as well with interim coach Joe Mazzulla sharing relatively positive updates postgame.
Williams’ injury came just a few minutes into the game when Jaylen Brown got fouled and crashed into his left knee. Williams went down and was limping when he got up. He actually stayed in the game for a bit, playing minutes into the middle of the second quarter, but was then ruled out at halftime with a left knee hyperextension. Fortunately, Mazzulla said after the game that the injury was “nothing serious.”
Smart’s injury came in the closing seconds of the first half when he badly rolled his right ankle while running around a screen. He crumpled to the floor and needed help getting to the locker room, and was quickly ruled out at the half with a right ankle sprain. Mazzulla relayed that X-rays on Smart were negative and that he’s considered “day-to-day.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Derrick White also limped off with eight minutes left in the game after banging knees with a Raptors defender and did not return. Mazzulla said after the game that White was “OK.”
For Williams, the injury was to the same knee he already had surgically repaired twice in 2022. With him still building back up from the second of those procedures -- he’s only been starting for the last two weeks, and his last four games before Saturday were his first four with over 25 minutes played -- any setback naturally brings some concern.
Even if this one isn’t serious, it could increase the sense of urgency for Brad Stevens and the Celtics to add another big man before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported this week that they’re one of the teams that has shown interest in Spurs center Jakob Poeltl.
If Williams and Smart do miss any time, the Celtics’ depth will be tested. As it has pretty much all season, it passed Saturday’s test with flying colors.
White (until his injury), Malcolm Brogdon and Payton Pritchard -- guard depth any team would kill for -- were more than enough to overcome Smart’s absence. Brogdon and Pritchard had to do even more heavy lifting down the stretch after White’s injury and were both part of the Celtics’ closing lineup.
Brogdon added to his Sixth Man of the Year case with 23 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench, while Pritchard hit four threes for 12 points to go along with a game-best plus-19 plus/minus.
With Robert Williams out, the Celtics mostly rolled with a smaller lineup featuring Al Horford and Grant Williams in the frontcourt. Horford had a tough shooting night (2-of-10 from the field, 1-of-6 from three), but made three huge defensive plays in the final minute to kill Toronto’s comeback bid, forcing two jump-balls and then snagging a walk-off steal at halfcourt. Grant Williams had a monster night, scoring a season-high 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting (4-of-6 from three). Only Brown (27) had more points for the C’s.
Luke Kornet and Blake Griffin each played eight minutes as well. While they combined for just two points, Kornet had four rebounds and Griffin had a big block and a drawn charge in the fourth quarter. If Williams does miss any time, both could see an uptick in minutes.
The Celtics benefitted from facing a struggling Raptors team Saturday night. Still, beating any team with Tatum getting the night off and Smart and Robert Williams missing half the game is impressive. And the relatively positive updates on those guys after the game means Boston’s efforts shouldn’t be overshadowed by those injuries, either.