Celtics catch fire from long range, down Raptors 120-106

For the first time all season, Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown did not lead the Boston Celtics in scoring, but the result was one of their best team efforts of the year, taking down the Toronto Raptors 120-106 Thursday night in Boston. They got a career-high 24 points from Semi Ojeleye, 20 more from Payton Pritchard off the bench, and led from wire to wire to improve to 13-11 on the season.

Inserted into the starting lineup to combat Toronto’s small starting five, Semi Ojeleye immediately paid dividends, scoring 8 of Boston’s first 12 points as they jumped out to an early lead in their first home game after their long west coast trip. In what could have been a trap game for the C’s, they looked sharp early and although Toronto hung around for the majority of the game, Boston never ceded control.

The biggest storyline from this game is that neither Tatum or Brown scored 20 points, and yet Boston still won. With both averaging more than 25 per game this year, that’s a big surprise. However, they more than made up for their lack of scoring by constantly creating easy looks for their teammates. The young duo combined for 19 assists, and many of them were to wide open shooter for 3-pointers, like this amazing find from Jayson Tatum.

Passes like that are Tatum’s next step in his development as a superstar in this league, and the fact that he’s already making them is going to make the rest of this season very interesting. That’s an insanely hard play to make, contorting his body around a defender to whip it out to the perimeter, and to make an accurate pass is even harder. As defenses key in on stopping him, finding the open man is critical to the Celtics offense not stalling out as we’ve seen for stretches over the last few years.

The Celtics won this game because of how well they shot the 3, plain and simple. By the time the dust settled, Boston was 20-39, a scorching 51.9%, on 3’s, and most of them were wide-open, easy looks. As Toronto focused on not letting Brown and Tatum beat them, they left shooters open on possession after possession, all game long, and the C’s made them pay. The Celtics young stars continued to make the right play and the extra pass instead of forcing a shot, and the results speak for themselves.

If Boston’s role players can shoot like they did tonight off of passes from Tatum and Brown, then this team is going to be really hard to stop. We know that both of them can fill up the bucket whenever they want, but if defenses are forced to guard the other three players on the floor with just as much attention, that’s going to open things up for Brown and Tatum even more. Add in a hopefully-improving Kemba Walker, and this Celtics offense could become unstoppable as this season moves towards the playoffs.

Speaking of Walker, he had one of his best performances of the year so far. Scoring 21 points to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, he was much more efficient than he has been recently, especially on 3’s, where he was 5-8. Following his dreadful shooting on Boston’s road trip, this was a welcome sight. Hopefully this will prove to be the start of an upswing instead of a one game aberration.

Next up for Boston is a matchup with the Detroit Pistons on Friday night on the second leg of a back-to-back. Detroit has played the Celtics tough in their previous matchups this year, so this should be another good game. It’s unlikely that Kemba Walker will play in this game to rest his knee, so we should see the normal Brown/Tatum combination filling up the score sheet.

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