BOSTON – At the end of the season, beating the Toronto Raptors doesn’t do any more for their win total than beating say, Philadelphia, Sacramento or any other team.
But there was no denying the importance of Boston’s 109-104 come-from-behind win over Toronto.
Following the game, players acknowledged the importance of beating a team that has had their number for a while.
Since Brad Stevens took over as the Celtics’ coach prior to the 2013-2014 season, the Celtics were 4-10 against Toronto prior to Wednesday’s win, a stretch that included losses in five of the six matchups prior to Wednesday.
“Big win, both teams in the same division, battling to get that top spot,” Boston’s Amir Johnson, a former Raptor, told CSNNE.com. “We really wanted this win.”
With the win, Boston (31-18) increase its second-place standing over Toronto (30-20) which now trails Boston by 1.5 games. Meanwhile, the Celtics find themselves within striking distance of knocking off Cleveland (33-15) for the best record in the East with the Celtics and the Cavs now separated by just 2.5 games.
While players spoke glowingly about how much of relief it was to finally beat the Raptors, head coach Brad Stevens was pleased with the win but didn’t feel it was their best effort against the Raptors despite having lost the two previous meetings.
“You know what’s crazy, is I thought we played better in the first two games,” Stevens said. “I’ll go back and watch film; maybe I’m wrong, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
And for a change, it went Boston’s way in what has to fall in line with being one of their best wins of the season.
“It feels like every game is close against them and they always beat us, so it was big for us to not put our heads down and not get discouraged and keep at it,” said Isaiah Thomas. “A lot of guys stepped up.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday night’s game.
Even in battling another high-scoring, fourth quarter team with their own fourth quarter scoring assassin (Kyle Lowry), Thomas still delivered in a big way for Boston. He finished with a game-high 44 points, 19 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter.
As I mentioned earlier, Lowry is one of the league’s best scorers in the fourth quarter of games. And while Toronto lost, Lowry didn’t disappoint with a team-high 32 points that included 12 in the fourth quarter.
He had 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, but it was Smart’s all-around game that catapulted Boston to an important victory. No play was bigger than the jump ball with 14.7 seconds to play and Boston up 103-101, that Smart won by tipping it into the hands of Isaiah Thomas who was immediately fouled. Thomas made both free throws which eventually became the game-winning points.
The former Celtic had his best game of the season with the Raptors, coming off the bench to score 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting with six rebounds.
It wasn’t his best shooting night, but he made some good hustle, high energy and finished with 14 points, eight rebounds (three offensive) with an assist and a steal.
He had 11 points and six assists with three rebounds, but he missed way too many easy shots that he normally makes which is the last thing the Celtics needed in one of their more challenging games this season. But to his credit, he drained a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that gave the Celtics the lead briefly.