Seemingly everyone has the Boston Celtics penciled in as the Eastern Conference representative in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The Toronto Raptors must not have gotten the memo.
The Raptors turned in a strong, full-team performance Friday night at Scotiabank Arena and used a second-half surge to hand the Celtics their first loss of the season, 113-101.
Boston’s star power is undeniable, but Toronto managed to match it and then some in the teams’ first clash of the 2018-19 campaign. Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford combined to score 65 points, while Kawhi Leonard nearly posted half of that total with 31 of his own to go along with 10 rebounds. Leonard’s supporting cast answered the bell as well, as Serge Ibaka (21 points) and Kyle Lowry (15 points) notched fine performances to help the Raptors move to 2-0 on the season.
Of course, this only is one game, but it will be very interesting to see the kind of effect Leonard has on Toronto as the season progresses. The star forward arguably is the NBA’s best two-way player when healthy, and he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Raptors as they look to halt their streak of early playoff exits.
All signs point to the East being a three-horse race between the Celtics, Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. While Boston effectively has bullied Philly in the majority of the teams’ tilts in recent seasons, the Raptors long have been a thorn in the Celtics’ side. And now with Leonard in the fold, one has to imagine Toronto will make things fairly difficult for Boston as it strives to become the king of the conference.
Here are some other notes from Friday’s Celtics-Raptors game:
— Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made a noteworthy change heading into the second half, opting to start Marcus Morris over Gordon Hayward to open the third. Hayward ended up finding a groove late in the quarter and finished with eight second-half points.
The veteran forward also was limited to 24 minutes for the second straight game.
— Boston logged double-digit turnovers for the second consecutive contest, giving the ball away 14 times.
— Jaylen Brown was the lone Celtic to not post a negative plus-minus rating, turning in a neutral zero.
— The C’s did improve a bit from 3-point range. After recording a 29 percent mark on opening night, they swelled their percentage up to 38.9 against the Raptors.
— While the Celtics fell to a team they very well could meet in the playoffs, it ultimately is just one loss. After the game, Stevens put things into perspective.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports
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