Jayson Tatum scored a season-high 40 points in only 32 minutes, Payton Pritchard added a career-high 23, and the shorthanded Boston Celtics crushed the Toronto Raptors on Monday night in Tampa, Florida. The C’s ended up winning 126-114, but the game wasn’t as close as the score shows, as Boston led by more than 20 for most of the fourth quarter, until their reserves let Toronto back into the game.
With yet another starter out, this time Marcus Smart, someone had to pick up the slack, and Jayson Tatum answered the call big time. He scored 21 points in the second quarter, a career high for one quarter, to help the Celtics turn a 9-point first quarter deficit into a 15-point halftime lead. Everything he put up seemed like it was going in, and when shots like the one below are falling, it’s clear that it’s just your night and you should keep shooting.
Tatum ended at 40 points, one shy of his career high and two points shy of tying Jaylen Brown’s career high from Sunday’s game. It would have been fun to watch him possibly go for 50 in the fourth quarter if the Raptors had been able to keep the game more competitive, but dropping 40 points in a win still has to feel great for Tatum.
Rookie Payton Pritchard continued his great start to the season with yet another strong game against Toronto. He set career highs by pouring in 23 points and dishing out 8 assists, becoming the first Celtics rookie to reach those numbers since Antoine Walker in 1997. The amazing part about Pritchard’s game is that he’s dominating with his craftiness and just outthinking the opponent. He’s not the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but he always seems to be able to get off a good shot from wherever he wants to get to.
Tremont Waters drew his first start of the season as the Celtics came into this game very thin at the point guard spot. Already without Kemba Walker for a few more weeks, Marcus Smart also missed this game with a sprained thumb. While Waters did an okay job of initiating the offense, he actually ended the victory with a game-worst -17 point differential. In a game won by 12 points, and while only playing 24 minutes, that’s tough to do. He’s still proven that he’s a serviceable player in a reserve role, but starting against one of the best backcourts in the NBA in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet seemed to be too much for the G League Rookie of the Year.
One storyline that bears watching moving forward is the fate of the Celtics double-big lineups. They haven’t worked at all this season, with the C’s continually falling behind at the starts of games with both Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis out there. The offense seems to flow much better when Brown and Tatum have better spacing around them, with Grant Williams or Semi Ojeleye on the floor, than a clogged paint with Thompson and Theis. The threat of shooters opens up driving lanes for the Celtics dynamic duo and gets them easier shots overall.
It may be a coincidence, but the shelving of the Thompson-Theis combo coincided with not only Tatum’s best scoring output of the year, but also by far his most efficient. He was 11-19 from the field and 5-8 from deep, both well above his season averages. Coming into the night, he’d taken 20 free throws on the season, an average of 4.1 per game. Last night alone he took 13, converting all of them. As previously mentioned, those are free points that the Celtics have struggled to generate, so the fact that they took 34 last night is another indicator that the double-big lineup may have been was what was holding them back. Look out for more Grant Williams or Semi Ojeleye in the starting lineup going forward, as the results from one game were very promising.
The one bright spot for the Raptors was the play of Fred VanVleet. He’s had a good start to the season, and this game was no exception. He ended with 35 points and 8 rebounds, and was really the only Raptors player that had a good night. He was pulling up from everywhere and making shots, as he finished 6-9 from behind the arc and 13-20 overall. For most of the game, he was the only Raptors player who seemed like a scoring threat, which is a credit to the Celtics defense on the rest of their impact players.
On the second night of a back-to-back, this was a strong victory for the Celtics. They had five players join Tatum in double figures, with four of those players coming off the bench. Yes, the Raptors have struggled out of the gate, but they are still a team full of really good players, so this game was an encouraging sign. While the reserves need to clean up the mistakes that led to Brad Stevens having to put Brown and Tatum back into the game to seal the deal, overall the bench had a really good game which will be key moving forward this season.
As the Celtics start to round into form, it’s clear that they’re going to go as far as their two young stars take them, and if the last two games are any indication, that’s a pretty high ceiling. Next up for the C’s is the Miami Heat on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., where we’ll hopefully have another chance to watch one of the Jay’s score 40 again.