BOSTON — The first 15 games of the 2018 season, though not exactly an unmitigated disaster, haven’t exactly gone the way the Boston Celtics would have drawn them up.
Entering Friday night’s tilt against the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics had lost five of their last seven games and sat at 8-6. But in what arguably was their biggest game of the season to date, Boston earned a thrilling 123-116 overtime victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors.
Given the wealth of talent the Celtics boast, the periodic lack of execution on both ends of the floor easily has been the most surprising thing this season. On Friday, save for a few occasional stretches, Boston mostly executed well and, most importantly, they did so in the biggest spots.
Going forward, the Celtics are hoping that will be the standard.
“Well I think we can use it as a building block,” Gordon Hayward said. “I still think we’re not playing our best basketball, I think we went through a drought there in the middle of the game where they went on a run and we had to claw our way back into the game. I think we’ve shown numerous times we’re fighters and we’ll continue to fight, but we’ve got to get to the point where we’re playing 48 minutes of basketball the way we want to play it.”
“We always want to have success,” added Kyrie Irving. “But you have to have the patience to understand that it’s not going to just come, you’ve got to beat some great teams and build some continuity. I don’t want to say hopefully, but I think that this test tonight will set a precedent for us going forward.”
Given the brand of basketball the Raptors have played this season, Friday’s win very well could be a tone-setter. The story so far this year has been that the Celtics have the skill, but that the ultimate execution is the key.
In Friday’s victory, we saw what happens when everything comes together.
Here are some other notes from Friday’s Celtics-Raptors game:
— Irving had a monster game, to the point where it even got LeBron James’ attention.
The point guard was cooking, especially in the final stretches of the game, en route to 43 points and 11 assists, both of which were game highs. That total also was a career first for the star, as it is the only time in his career he’s tallied 40-plus points and 10-plus assists in a single game. Furthermore, he’s the first player in the NBA this season to eclipse that 40/10 mark.
— While the Raptors weren’t at their absolute best Friday, Kawhi Leonard was quick to tip the cap to Irving and the Celtics.
“You just have to give them credit,” Leonard said. “Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots. We’ve still got some things to do on the defensive end and try to stop those type of players and execution in the fourth quarter. We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we just got to keep getting better.”
Leonard finished the game with 31 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, missing the would-be game-winner just before the buzzer in the fourth.
— The Garden has been a safe place for the Celtics this season, as they are 5-1 at home so far this campaign and have won four straight in Boston.
— With the win, the Celtics now are 2-0 in overtime games this season and 7-3 against the Eastern Conference.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images