The Celtics earned their 20th win of the season Monday night with a 116-110 win over the Toronto Raptors, in what may have been their most impressive win of the season. They are now 5-0 on the second night of a back-to-back this season, as they were able to overcome a frustrating first half and make a statement.
The whistles did not go the Celtics’ way in the first half. Toronto shot 20 free throws to Boston’s nine. Joe Mazzulla displayed his frustration with the one-way whistles as he picked up a technical foul at the 5:35 mark in the second quarter.
Boston turned the ball over nine times in the first half and shot just 6-of-20 from deep, and went into halftime trailing 62-56. The Celtics would make a statement in the second half as they would outscore the Raptors 35-18 in the third quarter, behind 17 points from Jayson Tatum and a 23-7 run as they built up an eight-point lead they would hold the remainder of the game.
Heading into Monday night, Toronto had ranked seventh in defense and first in fast-break points per game, second-chance points per game, and points off turnovers per game. The Celtics were coming off a game Sunday in which five players played 32-plus minutes, which was not going to make it easy.
The Celtics were without both Malcolm Brogdon and Al Horford, but despite the injuries, Joe Mazzulla only went with an eight-man rotation, which interestingly did not include Payton Pritchard, who saw 16 minutes on Sunday. Nonetheless, Boston came away with the victory and advanced to 20-5 on the season. Here are three takeaways from the Celtics’ 116-110 win over Toronto on Monday night…
Celtics get assist numbers back up
After totaling just 18 assists on Sunday night in Brooklyn, Boston got back to sharing the ball in Toronto as 27 of the team’s 44 made buckets (61%) were assisted. Jaylen Brown led the way with eight assists, tying his season high. Marcus Smart added seven more in his return, as the offense seemed to run much more fluently with him.
A quick side note on Smart: He has been ripped in the past for his offense, but he has been incredible for the Celtics offensively. He made hustle play after hustle play in the third quarter, and finished with eight points and four assists as he fueled the run alongside Tatum.
Smart is doing a terrific job in his role this season, and he has come up huge for the Celtics in some big offensive moments this season.
Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet impress
Blake Griffin has been fantastic for the Celtics in all four games he has started this season. Griffin is in his 13th season, and although he doesn’t play much, when his number is called he has not disappointed. Griffin scored a season-high 13 points and also grabbed a season-high eight rebounds. Griffin has thrived in his role with the Celtics, and the Celtics have certainly benefited from his presence.
Fittingly, it was Griffin who delivered the knockout punch late in the 4th quarter.
Another great find for the Celtics’ front court has been Luke Kornet, who had an impressive night himself as he poured in 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Griffin and Kornet combined for 24 points and 15 rebounds as they stepped up big in Horford’s absence.
Turnovers limited in second half
Turnovers have been an issue for the Celtics in recent games. They had totaled 15-plus turnovers in each of their last three games heading into Monday night.
The Celtics had nine turnovers in the first half, which was a recipe for disaster against a Toronto team that ranked first in points off turnovers heading into Monday night.
Boston turned the ball over just two times in the second half, which is an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled to control the ball of late.