The Boston Celtics beatdown was on from the outset as they doubled up the Toronto Raptors in almost every statistical category of relevance in the first quarter of Monday's Game 5.
But the most eye-popping number was 11.
It wasn’t Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet’s point total; it was the points scored by the entire Toronto team.
Boston didn’t show up for Game 5 to merely deliver a blow to Toronto’s hopes of repeating as NBA champs.
The Celtics came to dominate from the outset, which is exactly what they did in easily defeating Toronto 111-89, which gives them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with a chance to now close it out on Wednesday.
We have seen Boston’s defense compete at an elite, upper-echelon level before. But what we saw in Game 5 was special.
Drives by Kyle Lowry that led to lay-ups and free throws in Games 3 and 4 were not to be in Game 5, often turned back because of the moving wall of Celtics defenders that converged on just about every attempt made by the Raptors to score around the basket.
And as Toronto looked to generate offense from 3-point range, the Celtics’ perimeter defenders consistently challenged long-range shots that more often than not were off the mark as Toronto finished the game connecting on just 12 of their 40 three-point attempts.
“We didn’t make shots. We weren’t aggressive enough,” Lowry said following the Game 5 loss. “They were very comfortable from the jump.”
It was indeed a special start defensively for Boston because it was the kind of across-the-board defensive showing that we have seen the Celtics display at times -- but not nearly as consistently as head coach Brad Stevens would like.
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And it came at a time when the Celtics absolutely needed a big game defensively in order to not just take the series lead but also remind themselves of who they have to be in order to, as Brad Stevens often says, be the best version of themselves.
“We were really active,” Stevens said. “We were just trying to play as hard as we can. We were playing with great purpose; you could feel that from the get-go. So, just hope that you would knock enough in to get something going and we did.”
Strong play at the start of games is nothing new for the Celtics in this series.
In Games 1-4 of this series, Boston was at its best in the first quarter while averaging 31.8 points while shooting 51.7 percent from the field with a plus-minus of +4.3.
No surprise that in the days following the Game 4 loss, there was a heavy emphasis placed by the Celtics on getting off to a good start.
“That’s the playoffs; gotta come out ready to fight every night,” Brown said. “If not, that’s how you lose. We gotta come out ready to fight next game.”