Toronto Raptors

Toronto's good. The addition of (a healthy) Kawhi Leonard? Even better

Toronto's good. The addition of (a healthy) Kawhi Leonard? Even better

TORONTO – Only 15 seconds into Friday’s game between Boston and Toronto, Kawhi Leonard and those enormously large hands of his had a steal.

By halftime, he was trending towards a double-double with nine points and five rebounds, a reminder to us all why he’s widely considered the best two-way player in the NBA.

And the performance he put on against the Boston Celtics only confirmed his status as he led the Raptors to a 113-101 victory over the Celtics (1-1) which was Toronto's seventh straight home win over Boston, and 11th in their last 12 meetings.

Leonard finished with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games this season with Toronto (2-0).

“Just went out and tried to lead by example,” Leonard said. “Coach (Nick) Nurse and Kyle (Lowry) did a great job of calling some plays and giving me the ball when in rhythm, and (I) made shots.”

Said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens: “He is a great player, and he is a great two-way player. He certainly looks really good.”

Boston’s Kyrie Irving also had high praise for the two-time All-Star.

“He’s just a special talent,” said Irving who led the Celtics with 21 points.

Which is why so much of the Toronto offense went through Leonard who forced Boston to try and double-team him at times which had mixed results.

Marcus Morris, one of several Celtics tasked with defending Leonard, is quick to acknowledge how talented a player Leonard is.

But he also recognizes a lot of Toronto’s offense flowed through him, making it all the more likely for him to put up big, eye-popping numbers.

“That’s the biggest thing; he’s getting the ball every other play,” said Morris, referring to Leonard’s 10-for-25 shooting night which was 11 shot attempts more than the nearest teammate. “He’s a good player, been a good player; not taking nothing away from him. But he getting the ball every play? You gonna get 30. That’s how I feel.”

But what Leonard did was more than just score a bunch of points.

He dissected the Celtics defense in every way imaginable, whether it was beating someone off the dribble for a score, drawing a foul, or draining a 3-pointer.

Leonard had almost as many free throw attempts (nine) as the entire Celtics team (10), in large part because of the mismatches the Raptors were able to create for him via pick-and-roll switches or just initiating the offense quickly when he was being guarded by a Boston player who was at a clear disadvantage.

“Anytime he goes through you to try and score I don’t think you are doing anything wrong coverage-wise,” Stevens said. “I think when he gets to the rim uncontested or you are fouling him, then I think we have to do a little bit better. He’s going to create some of that stuff.”

And when he does, it makes an already tough Toronto team all that more difficult to beat.

His arrival has not only bolstered the Raptors roster, but also meant four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry has to adjust to having a different running mate.

“The transition has been fine; I’m a true professional,” Lowry told NBC Sports Boston. “At the end of the day, I have two good teammates coming in (Leonard and Danny Green). They’ve got championships. With that kind of pedigree coming in, you accept it … they got what we want. It’s been a smooth transition.”

It certainly looked like it, particularly down the stretch when Toronto closed out the game with a 12-2 run.

“Just some miscommunication on our end as well as some effort plays, including myself,” Irving said. “Just some mistakes down the stretch, that’s all. Turnovers here and there, they got up, Kyle (Lowry) hit a big three and then a step-back. Kawhi (Leonard) had a wide open shot. We had some good looks down the stretch too; just couldn’t capitalize. Just need to be better down the stretch.”

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Celtics, B.W.A. looking to bounce back following Raptors loss

Celtics, B.W.A. looking to bounce back following Raptors loss

TORONTO – The attitude and toughness that has come to symbolize Boston’s bench was very much alive and well on Friday night against Toronto.

But their impact on the game wasn’t quite up to par which was one of the many factors that played a role in Boston’s 113-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Boston’s second unit was outscored 28-23, but more significant than that was the timely contributions from Toronto’s backups.

The Celtics seemed to have a firm grip on the game near the end of the first half, in need of one last final defensive stop.

They seemed to get it, but a loose ball after a Toronto miss wound up in Fred VanVleet’s hands, leading to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that cut Boston’s lead to 53-49 at the half.

There were drives to the basket by Toronto’s O.G. Anunoby (nine points, 4-for-6 shooting) as well that played a role in the game’s final outcome.

Marcus Morris has said on more than one occasion that the Celtics have the best second unit in the NBA.

But in the Raptors, Boston faced a team that returned most of the players from its bench last season, a bench that ranked among the best in the NBA.

According to Hoopsstats.com, the Raptors bench last season ranked in the top 10 in several categories such as scoring (41.2 points, 5th among reserve units); rebounds (17.5, 7th); assists (9.3, 4th); steals (3.8, 2nd); blocks (3.1, 1st); as well as offensive (4.3, 4th) and defensive rebounds (13.2, 10th).

The Celtics return most of their second unit players as well, with Boston’s backups best statistical rankings coming in steals (3.0, 8th) and offensive rebounds (4.1, 10th).

While Boston’s personnel is similar from a year ago, the roles that the Celtics’ second unit players are tasked with has changed.

And the one player whose role has gained significantly more prominence is Morris.

Following Boston’s 105-87 season-opening win over Philadelphia, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens discussed the importance of Morris to what the team is trying to do on a night-in, night-out basis.

“Everybody has to do their role exceptionally well,” Stevens said. “But we’re asking more of Marcus Morris than we are a lot of guys. Because he’s a guy that could be playing 32, 34 minutes a night, starting, and playing a lot for … for a lot of places.”

Morris knows that he could be playing more minutes elsewhere and has never been shy about telling you that he wants to play more than he is currently.

“At the same time, I’m trying to just contribute in the minutes I’m given,” Morris, who had eight points on 3-for-7 shooting against Toronto, told NBC Sports Boston. “Obviously, I want to play a lot more but the circumstances we have, whatever I’m given I’m trying to maximize, help the team; be one of the guys off the bench and help lead the bench.”

They will need that leadership, as well as more production, to get back on a winning track in the back end of their first set of back-to-back games, on Saturday night against the New York Knicks. 

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Celtics struggle to contain Kawhi Leonard in loss

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics struggle to contain Kawhi Leonard in loss

TORONTO – This time of year, it’s too soon to look at matchups being statement games or anything like that.

More than anything else it gives teams a better sense of where they stand relative to other teams, at this juncture in the season.

Boston and Toronto began this season considered two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

And they did not disappoint, delivering the kind of down-to-the-wire finish you come to expect when two of the best collide.

In the end, Toronto did just enough to escape with a 113-101 victory.

And it was indeed a team win for the Raptors (2-0) as five players scored in double figures. Boston had similar balance with all five of its starters reaching double figures as well.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from one of the better games in this still-early NBA season.

STARS

Kawhi Leonard put his imprint on the game just seconds into the game with those ginormous mitts of his picking off a Celtics pass. As the game wore on, Leonard’s two-way talent continued to shine brighter and brighter. He led the Raptors with 31 points to go with 10 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games with the Raptors.

STUDS

It wasn’t as much about the point total Gordon Hayward had on Friday, but more so how the points were coming. He was driving to the basket, looking for 3’s, using his dribble to get into the lane and draw contact – all the things he did prior to suffering a season-ending injury a year ago. He tallied 14 points to go with seven rebounds.

In the first half, Serge Ibaka consistently found soft spots in the Celtics defense and exploited it for easy scores. He finished with 21 points, 13 of which came in the first half.

It was another not-so-stellar start for Kyrie Irving. But as we’ve seen throughout his career, Irving managed to find his shooting rhythm and finished with a strong stat line when all was said and done. He tallied 21 points on 10-for-20 shooting to go with six assists and four rebounds.

The assertiveness we saw at the end of last season continues on for Jayson Tatum, with many of his shot attempts tightly contested. But it didn’t matter much as Tatum finished with 16 points on 6-for-15 shooting from the field as well as nine rebounds.

Al Horford was giving the Celtics strong production in most of the major categories, well within a triple-double going into the fourth quarter. Horford, who shook off some early foul trouble, would finish with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds along with nine assists.

DUDS

B.W.A.

Boston’s second unit outscored the Raptors bench 23-19, but their main guys – Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes and Marcus Smart – never made the kind of impact this unit is capable of to turn the game’s momentum in their favor. With so little margin for error against a team as good as the Raptors, they can’t just have a solid game which was the case on Friday. They have to be more impactful as a unit in order to win these kind of games on the road.

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