Everything you need to know about the Celtics' 92-87 win over the Raptors with BSJ insight and analysis
Celtics advance to Eastern Conference Finals in a thriller: Jayson Tatum faded in the fourth quarter of his last Game 7 two years ago against the Cavs. He made sure that did not happen on Friday night. The All-Star forward led all players in points, rebounds and assists, (29-12-7) helping to carry the C’s to a Game 7 win over the Raptors.
The Celtics did not make a field goal in the final five minutes and 20 seconds of regulation but were able to hold on late thanks to terrific defense, including a huge block on the fast break by Marcus Smart in the final minutes. Smart had 16 points, 6 assists and 3 steals in the win and Jaylen Brown added 21 points and 8 rebounds in the sloppy affair. Both players overcame slow starts to be key contributors in the win.
Fred VanVleet had a team-high 20 points for the Raptors who only scored 41 points in the second half, which wasn’t enough to erase Boston’s four-point halftime edge.
The C’s will now face off with the Heat in the East Finals starting on Tuesday night.
Celtics win with defense and hustle late: One look at the Celtics shooting line makes you wonder how the heck they won this game. A 40/23/56 (FG%/3PT%/FT%) shooting line is a recipe for disaster on most nights in the NBA but the Celtics were able to build a 10-point lead with five minutes left in regulation and withstand one last charge by Toronto as both teams ran on fumes (C's scored four points in final five minutes). Smart delivered a huge block on Norm Powell and Tatum snagged a clutch offensive rebound as the C’s limited the Raptors to just nine points in the final five minutes of regulation to make up for their own offensive woes. Pascal Siakam (13 points, 5 turnovers) was held in check as was Kyle Lowry (5-of-15 FG, 3 turnovers) before he fouled out with 30 seconds remaining. VanVleet was the only hot hand left in the game after that and the C’s managed to shut him down with terrific defense by Grant Williams on a potential game-tying shot with 10 seconds left. Poor shooting (41 percent) and turnovers (18) by the Raptors made this game a rock fight that the Celtics came out on the right side of.
Gordon Hayward is out of quarantine and back with Celtics in Orlando: The swingman was back on the bench for the first time since suffering his sprained ankle in the Sixers series. He was spotted taking some shots before the game but his availability is unclear for Game 1 on Tuesday night which will come four weeks and two days after the initial injury. Brad Stevens says the team is hopeful that he will be able to return at some point in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Smart made the play of the game with the Celtics clinging to a two-point lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Norm Powell had a transition opportunity after a Jayson Tatum miss but Smart chased him down to avert the best chance Toronto had to tie the game. The Celtics corralled the rebound and got fouled on the other end, allowing them to pad their lead and make the Raptors go for a 3 late. Without that stop, the Celtics could have been staring at overtime with their inability to produce points late.
Jaylen Brown inside the arc: The swingman struggled from 3-point range but couldn’t miss from inside the arc, going 9-of-10 on two-point field goals on his way to 21 points. He also had a game-high four steals which tied his career-high
Jayson Tatum: The All-Star became the second-youngest player to score 25 points, grab 10 rebounds and dish at least five assists in a Game 7. The other? Kobe Bryant. He had a game-high in all three categories on Friday night.
Marcus Smart: His game-saving block earns him the slot here but he actually played a very in good control game beyond the ugly 3-point shooting night. Smart facilitated a lot of the offense with Kemba Walker facing a box-and-1 and he was an absolute force on the defensive end in helping force 18 Raptors turnovers.
Celtics 3-point shooting: Nearly half of Boston’s 3-point attempts in the first half came from beyond the arc (22-of-48). However, they knocked down just five, with Brown (1-of-6) and Smart (2-of-8) struggling most from deep early. The shooting did not get much better in the second half as C’s shot 23.7 percent from deep, the sixth-worst three-point shooting night of the season.
Free throw shooting: The Celtics almost cost themselves the game at the charity stripe, missing 10 free throws, including three in the final minute. Their 56 percent accuracy rate at the line was their worst mark of the season.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) September 12, 2020
TWO TAKES B-ROBB WILL PROBABLY REGRET LATER
Brad Stevens won the battle with Nick Nurse with his final adjustment: With the Raptors going small as expected in the fourth quarter and Daniel Theis in foul trouble, the C’s head coach had a big decision to make with his season on the line. He could go small with Brad Wanamaker who played an uneventful 10 minutes or throw his rookie forward into the mix during crunch time of a Game 7 for the first time all season. Grant Williams got the call for his switchability and rebounding and came up big on both of those fronts despite missing two key free throws with 30 seconds left in regulation. Most importantly, Williams held strong on VanVleet’s potential game-tying 3 at the end of regulation, staying tight enough to contest the shot well and get a piece of it (even though he wasn’t credited with the block). This is the type of defense that Williams has been working hard on all season long before games and it ended up helping to secure the C’s a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Stevens made the final big adjustment of this series by opting to stay with a more switchable big against the Raptors scoring five and that was the right button to push for a team that needed to win this one with defense first.
The Celtics bailed Kemba Walker out: The All-Star combined to shoot just 7-of-27 in the final two games of the series after carrying the offense for much of the first five games. Credit goes to Nick Nurse for a lot of those struggles with his box-and-1 defense in the first halves of Games 6 and 7 but Walker also had no rhythm for these two crucial games even when the Raptors switched to man-to-man. It’s tough for any team to overcome that type of shooting performance from one of its stars against such a great team but the Celtics stepped up around him. Smart did a masterful job of initiating offense when Walker was taken out of the picture while Brown and Tatum also came together with big scoring nights that the Raptors starting five could not match. Now, Walker gets a few days to recharge the batteries and rest his knee because the Celtics are going to need him to be a lot better than this if they want to get past the Heat.