Celtics

Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: Jayson Tatum's career night sets the tone in cushy win

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Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: Jayson Tatum's career night sets the tone in cushy win

BOSTON — The fourth quarter rolled around and the Boston Celtics’ core players spent most of their time in an unfamiliar spot - on the bench. 

The Celtics made quick work of the injury-riddled New Orleans Pelicans, building a double-digit lead in the first quarter that only grew stronger as the night progressed before finally ending with a 140-105 blowout win. 

For Boston (26-11), the victory snapped a season-long losing streak of three games. 

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So it only made sense for the Celtics to be uber-motivated to get back on the winning side of things, an effort aided by the short-handed Pelicans who came into the game having won seven of their previous nine games.  

JAYSON TATUM SHINES

Tatum lit up the Pelicans all game, scoring 22 of his career-high 41 points in the first half as the Celtics took control of the game. 

Celtics fans had to love how Tatum gave the game a little bit of everything at both ends of the floor. There were the usual 3-pointers and drives, complimented with finishes at the rim. But there were also baskets that came off rebounds that led to fast-break points or assists for Tatum, in addition to forcing turnovers that were converted into easy scores. 

It was as complete a game as we’ve seen from Tatum, the kind of game that reminds us all why he has been talked about so prominently this year as a potential first-time All-Star. In addition to his scoring, Tatum had six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

DEFENSE TO OFFENSE

The Celtics set season-highs in a number of areas offensively, which speaks to how well they shot the ball. But many of those shots came in transition following turnovers or good defense.

That, more than anything else, is what triggered Boston’s strong play against the Pelicans. 

Effort has become a topic of discussion about the Celtics of late. Brad Stevens and players alike have been candid about the team not playing with the kind of consistent effort needed to be successful. They got that, and then some, on Saturday in one of the most dominant wins of the season. 

KANTER CLEANS UP ON THE BOARDS

The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled defending the paint most of this season. And Enes Kanter, the savvy veteran that he is, took advantage all night. He finished with a potent double-double of 22 points and 19 rebounds, doing so in just 23 minutes of court time. 

Kanter was that efficient, that dominant, that impactful in a game that swayed in Boston’s favor early. 

Of course, the Pelicans were undermanned on many fronts. But for Kanter and the Celtics, that didn’t matter. We’ve seen them play injury-riddled teams and struggle. That was not the case on Saturday night, a night in which the Celtics played as well as we’ve seen them against any team this season. 

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Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Celtics have entered the elite contender group chat

Well, hello there, Boston Celtics.

After seven inconsistent performances down in Orlando, the Celtics asserted themselves — and loudly, too — as a legitimate title contender with a dominant 122-100 thumping of the previously bubble unbeaten Toronto Raptors.

There is always a danger in overreacting to a single game but this was no fluke. The Celtics simply displayed their full potential and on both ends of the court.

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The ball whizzed around the floor with an extra focus on ball movement leading to 16 3-point makes. The Celtics shuffled their feet and guarded with purpose, limiting the Raptors to 57 points through three quarters while Boston’s lead ballooned as high as 40.

"This game will mean nothing if we,” see the Raptors again, Stevens cautioned after his team’s win. We’d counter that it probably would not have mattered if the Raptors were clicking on most of their cylinders because of the way the Celtics played for much of the night.

The Celtics put seven players in double figures and had an offensive rating north of 120 early in the fourth quarter before Stevens fetched the starters. That’s an absurd number when you consider the Raptors had limited teams to 96.1 points per 100 possessions through their first three seeding games.

While quality teams like the Lakers and Heat struggled to generate offense against Toronto, the Celtics made every extra pass, sprayed the ball around to open shooters, and knocked down open looks.

A Raptors team that has routinely challenged teams to shoot corner 3-pointers watched Boston scorch from that spot. Boston made a staggering 10 of 15 attempts from the corners, with everyone including big man Daniel Theis having success there.

"I think the biggest thing is that, when the ball doesn’t stick, we’re pretty good,” said Stevens. "We really had a large emphasis on that. Not only tonight but the other night as well. We gotta keep sharing it and keep making plays for others. Our players are really good, they’re going to draw a lot of help, when they do, it’s just a matter of making the right read and doing that over and over.”

Or as Jayson Tatum underscored it: "Guys got some easy, open looks and I think that opened the game up for us.”

As good as Boston’s offense was, the defense was even better. And considering the poor showing on that side of the ball to this point of bubble play, that was maybe even more encouraging than the offense.

Yes, the Raptors missed some shots but Boston didn’t give them much easy. Toronto mustered only 12 first-quarter points as the Celtics played with ratcheted-up defensive intensity throughout the first half.

Boston needs to bottle up this defense moving forward.

"I saw something, we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” said Tatum.

"We have to take more pride in that. I think today was a good step in the right direction but we’ve got to continue to get back to who we are and guard how we normally do.”

Stevens tightened up his rotation but went back to second-year center Robert Williams as his first big off the bench. He was rewarded with 11 minutes, 27 seconds of solid play, with Williams putting up 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with four rebounds. He was much more disciplined in his coverages and again offered hope that he can be a bit of an X-factor for the Celtics if needed in certain matchups.

Brad Wanamaker added 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the Boston bench as the team didn’t throttle down with reserves on the court. Heck, Marcus Smart was 1-of-8 shooting and STILL finished plus-19 in 24 minutes of action.

The Raptors had been the darling of NBA pundits in recent days. Their early bubble domination had prognosticators suggesting they might be more dangerous than Milwaukee, which isn’t an outrageous suggestion considering Toronto’s talent and the experience gained last season.

The Celtics sent notice to the league that they plan to be in that hunt for the East crown. Despite what Stevens suggested, shellacking the Raptors like that — and finishing 3-1 in the season series — has to help a little bit should these teams see each other again in the East semifinals.

The Celtics finally showed the type of team they can be. Now they must bottle it up and take it into the postseason. The Boston team we’d seen in early seeding games wasn’t consistent enough, or defensively stout enough, to hang around very long.

The team we saw Friday night absolutely can get comfy inside that bubble.

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

Celtics vs. Raptors Overreactions: C's defense is ready for the big stage

The Boston Celtics made a big-time statement on Friday night, dominating the Toronto Raptors in every facet of the game in their 122-100 victory.

Jaylen Brown led the C's with 20 points and Jayson Tatum chipped in with 18 of his own. Kemba Walker added 17 points and four assists in his 23 minutes.

Here are three instant overreactions to Boston's impressive performance, which brings its record to 46-23:

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1. Celtics have figured it out on defense.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

The 122-100 final score does not do the Celtics' defense justice. It was sensational in this game, and it proved the defense's performance vs. Brooklyn wasn't simply the result of playing against a bad team.

Boston's defense struggled through the first few games in the Orlando bubble, but the last couple of contests have shown what this unit is capable of come playoff time. After all, it's been one of the best defensive units in the league for the majority of the 2019-20 season.

The Celtics will need more defensive performances like this one down the stretch if they're to beat Toronto, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia in the postseason, and Friday night's game proved they're capable of making it happen.

2. Robert Williams is a game-changer.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Am I aboard the Timelord hype train? You bet I am. And you should be too.

It didn't quite match his enormous night vs. the Nets, but Robert Williams still made his presence felt vs. Toronto. The second-year big man had 10 points and four rebounds in 11 minutes while contributing to the Celtics' lockdown defensive effort.

It's time to get Timelord into the rotation on a more consistent basis.

3. Celtics proved they can beat Raptors in a playoff series.

Verdict: Overreaction

This was an extremely encouraging all-around performance from the Celtics. C's fans should be confident going toe-to-toe with anyone come playoff time, and that includes the Raptors.

But as great as this win was, Boston can't get complacent. Toronto remains one of the scariest potential playoff matchups with their lockdown defense. It wasn't on display in this game, but it will be if these two teams meet up for a seven-game set.

Be inspired by what you saw from the C's on Friday night, but don't expect the same kind of dominance if/when these teams face off again. The tables can turn in a heartbeat.