The talk around Boston lately has been whether Kyrie Irving is getting enough touches late in close games. Well, given the outcome of tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors, consider those questions answered.
Irving was phenomenal (and the Raptors were not) in a closing 17-4 run by the home Celtics, which secured them a 117-108 win over Toronto. The Raptors fall to 33-13 with the loss and a half game back of Milwaukee for tops in the East. Boston improves to 26-18.
Once again, the Raptors came into this game missing some key rotation pieces. With OG Anunoby out for personal reasons and C.J. Miles out with a hip injury, the yo-yo effect of starters to bench was even more pronounced.
The starters for the Raptors were consistently great. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 33 points on just 19 shots, adding four rebounds and four steals. Serge Ibaka also had a great game, with 22 points and 10 rebounds (five on the offensive glass). Kyle Lowry, despite going 3-for-10 for just 10 points, had an aggressive mindset early on and racked up seven assists.
What’s more, Toronto’s starters were engaged and opportunistic on defence. When all five guys were out there, especially with Ibaka at the five, they were able to collapse the lane and get back to shooters relatively efficiently. The Celtics made 46.7% of their threes on the night, but quite a few were under duress.
That percentage, on the flip side, was also propped up by the Raptors’ poor bench play. In the second quarter, Toronto was soundly beaten by the Celtics’ bench unit — led by 18 points from Gordon Hayward — as they were beaten 34-17 in the frame. That stretch stung, even though the Raptors made quite a rally in the second half.
In the opening quarter, Kawhi got off to a frantic start. He had five of the first seven Raptors points, including a steal and score, to help Toronto jump out to an 18-7 lead. The starters kept the good times going until the media timeout, when they were up 27-19.
Changing over to the bench, though, gave Boston life. Nick Nurse decided to stagger Danny Green with the four bench players (Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe, and Norm Powell), with fairly poor results. Powell tried to lead the offence, with plays like this dunk in transition.
As the game got into the second, though, Boston got it back on the other end, attacking Monroe relentlessly in the paint and taking their first lead at 41-40.
Toronto responded by bringing their starters in late, but they were relatively listless in their execution. The Celtics continued to roll and went into halftime up 64-53.
In the third, the Raptors’ starters got to chipping away at the lead again. Their defence was stifling and a Kawhi and-one cut the lead to four late in the quarter. When the bench came in, it was Pascal Siakam staggered to join them, which was much more fruitful than Green — Siakam’s activity on defence and passing on offence helped unglue a lineup otherwise nervous to score.
In the fourth, the Raptors took the lead back momentarily as Kawhi went sicko mode once again. A stretch of 13 points for Leonard midway through the quarter put the Raptors up by as much as four.
Things went completely silent, though, for the last 4:22. The ball stopped moving, off-ball players like Green started to dribble too much, and the Celtics took advantage. Kyrie would make a ridiculous three-pointer from just inside the logo at 1:39 to put Boston up five, essentially icing the game.
In a statement game, Irving led the way for Boston, finishing with 27 points and 18 assists for a huge double-double. Al Horford had 24 points on 12 shots in support.
These late game execution issues keep popping up for Toronto, who failed to score on five of their last six meaningful possessions (the one make was a crazy Danny Green jumper). Boston, on the other hand, gains a little more confidence that they could compete and win any potential playoff series between these two. With a 2-1 series lead, the last matchup of this rivalry won’t be until February 26.
The Raptors have nothing to do but keep their eyes on the future, though. They return home to play the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night.