LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Boston Celtics might have played their best game of the 2019-20 season Friday, beating the Toronto Raptors 122-100 in a result that was even more lopsided than the final score would indicate.
But afterward, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t about to take any victory laps, not with a potential rematch with Toronto looming in a few weeks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“This game will mean nothing if we get that opportunity again,” Stevens said. “They’re a really good team. And I thought they missed a lot of open looks and just wasn’t their night.
“I thought our guys played well, though. But it won’t mean anything in a couple of weeks.”
It might not. But Boston’s victory means the Celtics won the season series 3-1 against their Atlantic Division rivals, and puts down a marker ahead of what would be truly fascinating series between these two teams if they do manage to meet in the East playoffs.
Toronto will not want any of those games to look remotely like this one, as the Raptors — who had won their previous four games inside the NBA’s bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex — were resoundingly throttled by the Celtics from start to finish. Boston controlled the game right from the start, but after Toronto closed to within eight early in the third, the Celtics outscored the Raptors 36-12 the rest of the quarter to go up 91-57 after three quarters, causing Toronto coach Nick Nurse to pull his starters and wave the white flag.
“It was hard to score,” Nurse said of his team, which shot 43% from the field and 26% from 3-point range. “That’s one of those nights where it didn’t appear to me, I think we had 19 3s in the first half and I’m trying to think of which ones I wouldn’t have wanted us to take. There might have been one that we had to throw up or something, a shot-clock deal. The rest of ’em were pretty good and I think it hurt us that we didn’t knock any of them down. It got us a little discouraged.
“We were playing pretty good defense early, similar to the other night, but we just couldn’t get any offense to energize us. Give them credit, they were moving, they were active, but you’ve got to step in and make some of those shots if you want to beat a good team.”
Toronto had entered this game dominating teams defensively, but the Celtics were able to get free throughout the game, shooting 49% from the field and hitting 16 3-pointers to create more than enough separation to cruise to a victory. Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 20 points and was outstanding guarding Toronto star Pascal Siakam (11 points on 5-for-15 shooting) at the other end.
“I think Pascal had a lot of really good opportunities, you know what I mean?” Nurse said. “It wasn’t like he wasn’t getting his chances and he had some really wide-open looks, and even had some good drives that I thought he was patient and composed and got good shots up. Some nights they just don’t go in. And then for the rest of it, nobody else was picking up the slack.”
As a result, the Celtics cruised to the most impressive victory inside the bubble thus far — though, again, good luck getting Stevens to admit that.
“Well, on Wednesday morning I didn’t think we were very good,” Stevens said, referring to Boston’s loss the night before to a Miami Heat team that didn’t have Jimmy Butler. “So I’m not sure I’ve changed just with two nights’ sleep. We have played a little better the last two games, but we have a long way to go to get to where we want to be.”