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Five Thoughts on Last Night: Raptors 111, Celtics 91

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In what may have been their biggest test of the season, the Toronto Raptors handled the Boston Celtics with ease. Here are five thoughts on the 111-91 victory:

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

As a Toronto Raptors fan, the aftermath of Tuesday’s game prompted one question: What was the more fun victory, the 133-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last month, or last night’s 111-91 win over the East-leading Boston Celtics? Let’s jump in!

What a Glorious Second Quarter

The first quarter was tight, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry were hitting shots, and Jaylen Brown was eating DeMar DeRozan’s lunch. A 22-18 Raptors lead was what you might have expected, frankly, from two teams in the top three in defense.

Then the Raptors bench came in and blew the doors off.

Get this: When Lowry, who was the best Raptor in the first quarter, went out, the Raptors were up 2; when he came back in the second they were up 16!

Ultimately the Raptors won the quarter 36-19, shot 68%, hit 5-of-8 3-pointers, forced 5 turnovers, and scored 9 fast break points.

And that was pretty much your ball game. The Celtics—the kings of the comeback—never got closer than 18 in the second half.

The Celtics had zero (0) Offensive Rebounds Through Three Quarters

Please read that again.

ZERO. None. Not one.

At times this Raptors team has looked like it couldn’t keep a bunch of high-schoolers off the glass, but on Tuesday they pitched a freaking shutout through three quarters. That’s insane.

Boston somehow managed to rack up 9 offensive boards in garbage time to end up +4 in the category, but hey—sometimes the stats don’t tell the story.

The Raptors Moved the Ball As Well As They Have all Year

Speaking of stats—the Raptors assisted on 29 of their 40 made field goals, a stellar 72.5% assist rate. This one does pass the eye test, though, as the ball movement was crisp and quick all night. It hummed around the perimeter, and open looks created by that movement were a big factor in the Raptors’ 50% shooting.

Every Raptor who played pre-garbage time had an assist—even Serge Ibaka! DeRozan, who didn’t have a great shooting night, added another 6 dimes, and Fred VanVleet led the team with 8.

”We Don’t Need Any Help,” Raptors Shooters Exclaim

News broke before tip-off that the Hawks were shutting down Marco Belinelli in hopes of trading him this week, and that certainly raised my eyebrows, as I’ve been thinking he’s a piece the Raptors could use.

Then the Raptors stepped out beyond the arc and said, “nah, we’re just fine thanks.”

Lowry led the charge, hitting 6-of-11; DeRozan added a couple as well. (Shockingly, 3-point assassin Jonas Valanciunas was 0-2.)

But once again the bench was the difference maker.

First, there’s Fred VanVleet. After starting the season 7-33 from deep, he’s completely turned it around. He’s shot 43% since that cold 12-game opening stretch, including a ridiculous 49% since January 1.

Again: that’s 49% on three-pointers in the last 16 games (on 3.9 attempts per game).

Second, it was great to see C.J. Miles get his groove back. He missed three games with a sore knee and didn’t get much run on Sunday, but the knee sure looked fine on Tuesday: 5-of-7 from downtown for 20 points, and two assists as well.

More consistency from long range would be great—going from 19-of-40 against Portland to 6-of-35 against Memphis and back to 17-of-36 against Boston isn’t helping my stress levels—but maybe this team is, in fact, just fine without another shooter?

The Celtics’ Victory in November Looks Different Now

Boston beat Toronto 95-94 on November 12. It’s easy to paint that one as a bad loss because Kyrie Irving didn’t play, and the offense bogged down at the end.

But reflecting on it now, that was a different Raptors team.

  • Norman Powell was still starting (that was the game he got hurt, in fact).
  • Lucas Nogueira was ahead of Jakob Poeltl in the rotation (19 minutes to Poeltl’s 4)
  • Fred VanVleet was still struggling.

VanVleet and Poeltl were the first Raptors off the bench last night, and played a combined 54 minutes. Powell and Nogueira only played in garbage time.

It’s clear the Raptors rotation has evolved (and steadily improved) since that game, and it made a big difference last night.

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Just like stats don’t always tell the full story, sometimes five thoughts aren’t enough to capture the highs of a big win like this.

Somehow I didn’t mention Delon Wright; here’s what my notes say about Delon’s night: “Delon Spectacular again. Steals, 3-pointers, layups, slams.” And yes, I capitalized “Spectacular.”

I also didn’t mention the defense, which held the Celtics to 40% and held Jayson Tatum and Al Horford to a combined 6 points.

But let me go back to my original question: More fun, the W against Cleveland or the W against Boston?

I think the win against Cleveland was more fun.

But I think the win against the Celtics was bigger. Yeah, beating LeBron is always a treat. And yes, either way it’s still just the regular season... But the Raptors have been looking up at Boston all year. This game felt important. The Raptors got up for the moment, and seized it and didn’t let go.

There are two more tests against Boston looming. I can’t wait to see how they turn out.