Jayson Tatum: “It’s no secret: Smart is the heart and soul of this team.”— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 8, 2020
Oh, what a difference a day can make. We entered Friday with Toronto, undefeated in Orlando, looking like Milwaukee's most serious threat for the Eastern Conference championship by far. Boston, meanwhile, had played uneven in Florida, losing to the Heat without Jimmy Butler and blowing a big lead to the Bucks in their opener. But on Friday? We saw a shift. The Celtics ran the Raptors off of the floor, 122-100.
The beatdown was thorough, but the worst of it came in a third quarter in which the Celtics outscored the Raptors 39-20. Jaylen Brown led the way with 20, but Jayson Tatum (18) and Kemba Walker (17) weren't far behind in what was a huge team win. The Celtics drained 16 3-pointers in the win. It's hard to lose when that many shots have fallen.
Toronto, meanwhile, needs to grapple with some of the weaknesses Boston exposed. The Celtics and their No. 5 ranked defense took away the easy transition and motion-based points Toronto thrives on, and as a result, their halfcourt offense sputtered. Boston's wings can make tough shots. Tonight, at least, Pascal Siakam could not. The Raptors still have a bit of time to cook up alternative methods of half-court scoring, but for one night at least, the concerns about Toronto's lack of a superstar appear to be legitimate. Here are the biggest takeaways from tonight's win.
Toronto's lack of individual shot-creation killed them
This wasn't a close game. There wasn't anything Toronto could've done to win it. But what was evident when the game was still remotely competitive was how much better Boston is at hitting hard shots than Toronto. The Celtics held the Raptors to only 14 first-quarter points and 37 total in the first half. A lot of that was bad shooting, but bad shots are the norm against top-five defenses.
Where contenders tend to overcome great defense is through great individual shot-creation and free throws. The Raptors had the former with Kawhi Leonard, and the latter with DeMar DeRozan. But they have neither right now, and it showed as Pascal Siakam struggled in his role as offensive alpha against Boston's length on the wing. Toronto took only 17 free throws, and they are ranked 17th in that regard league-wide this season. Whistles are even harder to come by in the playoffs. So are open shots. If the Raptors can't find a way to generate easy points at the line and get the hard points in one-on-one settings, their playoff run isn't going to last nearly as long as last season's.
Kemba Walker looks healthy
Though his minutes are still being monitored, an important development in this one was Kemba Walker's aggression. In his first three games, he never reached double-digits in field goal attempts. He took 14 shots in a blowout tonight. Walker is on the Celtics to score. That is his entire job. The compromised version we saw just before the shutdown and so far in Orlando hasn't done so at a rate high enough to justify a max contract. But tonight's performance was encouraging. His ability to break down defenses off of the dribble is only going to make life easier for the rest of the offense.
The Time Lord has finally arrived
The Celtics are finally giving Robert Williams real run, and he's made the most of it. His career-high in scoring before Wednesday was 11 points. He topped that with 18 against the Nets, and nearly did so with 10 more points Friday. More importantly, he held up fairly well defensively. Nobody is asking Williams to match Daniel Theis on that end of the floor, but in 10-15 minutes of playing time, his athleticism is a breath of fresh air for a Celtics team that has largely relied on ground-bound big men this season. Having a lob finisher in the pick-and-roll is just another weapon for a Celtics team that had just about every other area covered offensively.