The Boston Celtics spoiled the Toronto Raptors' first Christmas Day game at home, pulling out a 118-102 win in convincing fashion. The Raptors were fighting an uphill battle with Pascal Siakam (groin injury), Marc Gasol (hamstring injury) and Norman Powell (shoulder injury) all sidelined for the game.
It looked like the Raptors would be able to play the Celtics close after starting the game on a 10–0 run, but after the Celtics responded with a 9-0 run of their own, they controlled the game from that point on.
Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown put on an offensive clinic for Boston, combining for 52 points, and knocking down 10 3-pointers. Both were one 3-point shot shy of tying the Christmas Day record of six made 3s, but after the Celtics built up a 22-point lead, his night was finished early in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors had solid production from Chris Boucher off the bench, who finished the day with a career-high 24 points, and after starting slow, Fred VanVleet tacked on another 27 points. However, it wasn't nearly enough to overcome Boston's three-point shooting.
Here are three takeaways from NBA Christmas Day's opening game:
The Raptors sorely missed their sidelined stars
Toronto has dealt with injuries all season long, but missing Siakam, Gasol and Powell all at once is likely the biggest blow they've suffered so far. Without Siakam's playmaking ability and lockdown defense, the Raptors had to rely heavily on their bench to get the job done, and aside from Boucher, they fell flat. Kyle Lowry was kept in check for most of the game, and other than VanVleet's 27 points, no one in the starting lineup could get anything going.
On defense, Gasol's size down low was a noticeable absence, as the Raptors were outrebounded 45-34. Prior to this game, the Raptors were able to manage well without Siakam, Gasol and Powell, but against a Boston team that looks like legitimate Eastern Conference contenders, it showed just how important those three are to this team.
Merry Christmas, Jaylen Brown
Brown delivered presents in the form of 30 points to Celtics fans everywhere. From beginning to end, Brown was knocking down shots from essentially everywhere on the floor against the Raptors, including going 5 of 7 from beyond the arc. While some have questioned the contract Brown received from the Celtics in the offseason, he showcased just how dynamic of a scorer he can be against a usually stingy Toronto defense.
He crossed up defenders, knocked down 3s at will and even tacked on six rebounds and four assists in an incredibly efficient game. This is the third straight game Brown has shot 50 percent or better from the field, and while he isn't the featured star on this team, he proved on Christmas Day that he deserved every bit of that four-year, $115 million contract.
A healthy Hayward makes a world of difference for Boston
After missing three games with a sore foot, Hayward returned to action, and showed no rust in his 14-point, six-assist performance. Even without Hayward, the Celtics are already an incredibly difficult team to play against with the numerous scorers they have. With him, however, just adds another headache for opposing defenses. Against an injury plagued Raptors squad, that's exactly what happened. If the Raptors focused too much on Walker or Brown, they paid the price as Hayward was waiting to make a play.
On one play in the third quarter, Hayward set a screen for Walker, but instead of Walker pulling up for a 3-point shot -- which the Raptors were anticipating -- he passed it to Hayward, who drove past VanVleet, then kicked it out to Brown for a wide open 3:
It's not just scoring that Hayward can offer. His underrated playmaking skills, like the play above, make the Celtics an incredibly hard team to defend. Hayward's been having an incredible season so far, and games like this are the reason the Celtics signed him in the first place.