A shorthanded Boston Celtics team crushed the Toronto Raptors on Monday night, and there was plenty of praise to go around.
Stars like Jayson Tatum (40 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks) and Jaylen Brown (19 points, five rebounds, three assists) don’t deserve the majority of the credit this time, though they both certainly played significant roles in the C’s 126-114 victory over the Raptors at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Boston got some serious help from its bench, including standout performances from rookie point guard Payton Pritchard (23 points, eight assists) to third-year Celtic Robert Williams (11 points, 15 rebounds).
Grant Williams (14 points, six rebounds) and Semi Ojeleye (12 points, eight rebounds) played some of their best basketball of the season Monday night, too.
All of this culminated in a well-deserved win for the C’s, especially after their somewhat sluggish start. Head coach Brad Stevens didn’t hesitate to spread the love, either.
“I mean, Tatum was tremendous tonight, but we had a lot of really good performances,” Stevens told reporters, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “Second night of the back-to-back for the second time this year … had a bunch of guys out and just played the way that you should play. And that’s the standard. We let go of that at the end of the game. But I thought that, for the most part, guys all did a good job all the way down the line.”
The Celtics will have plenty more bumps in the road to overcome (multiple back-to-backs, injuries, etc.), especially if they want to claim the coveted NBA title. But if they continue to play like they did Monday for the rest of the season, there’s no telling what kind of success they’ll find.
Hopefully, Monday’s game was a sign of more good things to come. But those good things will be earned, not handed to them, so there’s still quite a bit of hard work ahead of this team.
But hey, it’s not a bad start.
Here are some more notes from Monday’s Celtics-Raptors game:
— Boston just wrapped up Game 2 of back-to-back games, and they managed to come out on top both nights.
Accomplishing that feat is no easy task. And Stevens pointed to some of the role players from Sunday’s contest for helping Boston pull through for a second straight day.
“I’ve always believed that in the second night of a back-to-back, somebody that didn’t play the night before can give you a great lift,” he said, “and tonight we had several guys that didn’t play as much last night that gave us a great lift.”
— Clearly, Ojeleye has made some significant improvements.
That progress has been apparent early and often this season, including Monday night. Ojeleye posted 12 points and eight rebounds and played a key role in the C’s second-half outburst.
Stevens was pleased with what he saw from Ojeleye.
“I would say he’s just been shooting the open shot,” Stevens said. “I mean, he had a couple of those tough pull-ups that are end-of-the-shot-clock shots that obviously are not high-percentage, but I think his jump shot from three is really good and he’s gotten better at it over the years. And a couple of his drives where he gets to the rim and has a chance to finish or go to the line and/or dump off or kick out have gotten a lot better, too.
“Semi is very reliable, and I thought he did a good job again tonight. Two straight really big performances in a row for him.”
— Pritchard had a pretty big night himself.
The rookie point guard put up 23 points and eight assists in his seventh game with the Celtics. He’s adapted rather quickly, and Stevens said it’s coming at just the right time.
“I mean, he’s a competitive guy,” Stevens said. “I mean, two nights ago, he didn’t have any points, right? (He) played 16 minutes tonight against a really good team with really good guards, really good defense, was able to find a little bit of rhythm and really play well. I think that’s sometimes the rookie experience. I think that he’s had more good nights, for sure, than not. And we’re going to ask him to do a lot right now — fair or unfair to him — he’s going to have to be consistent for us for us to have a chance to be a good team.”
— Boston gets a day of rest before returning to the court Wednesday to play the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.