The Boston Celtics took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the defending champion Toronto Raptors with a 102-99 win Tuesday night. Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 34 points and the Celtics got big shots down the stretch from Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker to seal the deal. On a night that saw Walker struggle to find his shot, he hit two big ones in the final minutes, including a pull up jumper like so many that have defined his career. He finished with 17 points on just 6-18 shooting and 1-8 from three. That one was a big one though, as he hit it with 2:24 remaining in the 4th and the lead only 3. That pushed it to 6 and the Celtics never looked back.
Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 19 in the 4th, hitting five threes and cementing the 2-0 lead for Boston. Former Indiana Hoosier OG Anunoby led the Raptors with 20 points, making 4-5 from three. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka each scored 17 a piece and Fred VanVleet added 19 for the defending champs. The Raptors shooting woes continued on Tuesday as VanVleet and Lowry shot a combined 3-19 from three point range. The Raptors lack of a bonafide closer reared it’s ugly head again down the stretch as Pascal Siakam had a couple of costly turnovers when the Raptors needed a bucket. Say what you want about them being better than last year, but they clearly miss Kawhi Leonard. Siakam and Lowry shrunk in the biggest moments, meanwhile the Celtics three-headed monster of Tatum, Smart and Brown stepped up to close out the game.
The game was back and forth early, with Boston struggling to get anything from anyone other than Tatum. They took a slim 2 point lead into the half, one they saw slip away in the 3rd when the Raptors led by as many as 12 and ended the quarter up 78-70. The Raptors when on to score just 9 points in the first 8 minutes of the 4th as they let Boston back in the game and ultimately gave them the win. A mental lapse by Jayson Tatum with 1:10 seconds to go resulting in a technical free throw for the Raptors almost derailed the Celtics victory; the free throw and ensuing possession brought Toronto within one. They never scored another point and Boston went on to take a 2-0 series lead.
After the game Raptors coach Nick Nurse emphasized the importance of game 3 saying, “Well, I think we should know we shouldn’t give up, right? We know the next game’s super critical,”But they’re all critical. They are. But we know this one’s super critical.” Remember this team was in this exact same position last season down 2-0 to Milwaukee, but that team had Kawhi Leonard and this one doesn’t. Boston is now 6-0 to start the playoffs and looking to get back to the conference finals for the third time in 4 years.
On a night when they had a lead going into the 4th and Kemba Walker tied the worst shooting half of his career, the Toronto Raptors have to feel like they let an opportunity slip through their fingers. They had so many chances to take back control of this series, and instead they find themselves facing what basically amounts to a must win on Thursday or they will looking at a possible sweep. Boston is now 5-1 against the Raptors this year and will look to keep the winning streak going in game 3.
Photo Credit: Ashley Landis/AP
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