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Kyle Lowry and the Raptors bench crush the Celtics, 111-91

Against Boston, the Raptors shot well, played strong defense, and once again did not need their starters in the fourth.

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

As expected, Raptors coach Dwane Casey insisted Tuesday’s game against the Celtics was not a statement game. At best he would concede it had significance — how could it not? Boston is first in the conference, and looking to make a run to the Finals (with the Cavaliers in the process of a controlled demolition). But it still had to be just one of 82 for Toronto.

After Toronto rolled easily to a 111-91 against the Celtics, these presumptive favourites to usurp LeBron, Casey still wouldn’t budge. “I don’t get caught up in,” said Casey. “Thursday night [against the visiting Knicks] is just as important to me. That’s the main focus we’ve got to keep, businesslike approach and not get caught up in whatever. It’s one game at a time and maintain the focus. And the most part, continue to get better.”

Fortunately, we do not have to obey these edicts. We can get as caught up as we’d like. And folks, I don’t know about you, but I want to get caught the hell up. Much like the Raptors laying the smack down on the Cavaliers earlier this month, or those satisfying wins over the Bucks, this was a statement game from Toronto.

And that statement is, mostly: take this gotdamn team seriously.

With Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris back in the lineup, the Celtics were at relatively full-strength. (They’re still without Gordan Hayward — but they got to 39-16 without, so we’ll call it a wash.) Despite these returns, Boston did not look any better on offense, and their defense — tops in the NBA — could not slow down the Raptors. That’s due in no small part to the play of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, of course, and the force of nature whirlwind of the second unit.

To begin with, it was clear Lowry was all the way up for this game. Fresh off celebrating a Super Bowl for (with?) his Philadelphia Eagles, Lowry blasted his way through three quarters of this one with 23 points on 6-of-13 shooting (all threes!), to go along with eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals. As the Raptors started building a lead in the first, blowing the game open in the second, and then piling on in the third, there’s no doubt Lowry smelled blood the entire way. And for the fourth, he didn’t even get off the bench.

DeRozan meanwhile took his time. He went 0-for-4 in the first — though he had three assists in the opening frame — and just five points in the first half. When things looked modestly rocky in the third (e.g. when the lead got down under 25 points), DeRozan went to work, putting up 10 more points. He’d finish with 15, six assists, three rebounds, and like Lowry, no minutes in the fourth.

When the Raptors bench is playing the way they did tonight against the Celtics, it makes for light work for the starters. (Which was a good thing in particular tonight: Serge Ibaka shot 4-of-5 but looked half asleep, and Jonas Valanciunas had a mostly quiet two-point night.) Led by 20 points from C.J. Miles, on lights out 6-of-8 shooting (5-of-7 from deep), the all-bench lineup blew the game wide open in the second, and then kept the heat on for the entire fourth. At one point the lead got as big as 29.

“We did our job, just enjoy going out there and competing,” said Delon Wright after his 14 point night on 6-of-11 shooting. “We try to bring energy to the game and that’s what we did today.” Indeed, it was that energy that had Celtics coach Brad Stevens wondering what the hell had just happened afterwards: “We looked slow, we looked like we weren’t ready to react to their speed or their physicality, and I think that probably was the case the whole night,” he said.

It’s hard to argue with Stevens’ conclusion after the rest of the bench’s performance. To follow Miles and Wright, Fred VanVleet had a team-high eight assists and ten points of his own, Jakob Poeltl had three blocks, Pascal Siakam was a terror up and down the court, running with and without the ball, and finishing plays like this:

And this:

These aren’t the plays that broke the game for the Raptors, but they’re indicative of the kind of energy on display, a summation of the output the bench was bringing against the Celtics. One of 82 sure, but that doesn’t mean this squad won’t go all out.

So now the Raptors sit just one game back of the Celtics for control of the East. It’s true that Irving maybe wasn’t at his best tonight after a three-game layoff. Maybe Morris wasn’t quite up to speed either. Perhaps the frontcourt could use the incoming presence of Greg Monroe. And sure, next year with a healthy Hayward, Boston could really run the show.

But in the mean time, the Raptors steamrolled every lineup the Celtics tried. They shot a cool 50 percent from the field, found and made open threes (17 on 47 percent shooting), and generated 29 assists on 40 made buckets. The league’s top defense couldn’t stop Toronto from cruising past 100 points. All of this may mean nothing in late April, or May, or whenever — but right now it certainly feels better than the alternative.

All in all, not a bad statement to make.