Photo: The Boston Globe
By Patrick Whalen
After a long and frustrating three game road trip the Celtics return to their home last night to take on the top team in the east in the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics were coming off a loss to the Nets that capped off a frustrating streak for not just the fans but even the players and the frustration showed. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown got into on the bench during a timeout in Miami, Kyrie chewed out Gordon after opting to give Tatum the last shot in Orlando and then said some comments to the media that did not seem to sit well with his teammates as Jaylen Brown seemed to clap back with his comments after the Brooklyn loss. Coming into this game against Toronto most people thought that this would be the game where things boil over and get ugly or it would be a statement making win. The Celtics would thankfully get three players back for the pivital game as Kyrie and Marcus Smart both returned after their one game absence in Brooklyn and Aron Baynes was finally clear to play after being out since December 19th with a broken left hand. His left hand was wrapped and tapped but the big Australian was ready to get back out on the court. The Raptors meanwhile were still witout Jonas Valanciunas along with OG Anunoby.
With Kyrie back in the lineup he assumed the roll of the go to guy as usual. He backed up his talk of pretty much saying give me the ball late and let me go to work with 27 points on 11-19 shooting to go with a career high of 18 assists. Kyrie was on fire with anything from no look passes to crazy handles to get to the rim to throwing up lobs to the bigs.
Al Horford also had a wake-up game as he exploded for 24 points on 9-12 shooting and 7 rebounds. Horford put an exclamation point on his performance with a huge dunk late in the third quarter.
Gordon Hayward had a good night off the bench with 18 points on 8-13 shooting and 5 assists. He even had some moments where he was looking like old All Star Gordon like with this step back three.
Jayson Tatum had a tough night shooting at just 6-16 but still finished with a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Celtics also got a boost from the bench in Aron Baynes. The big Aussie went for 9 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes in his first game back since December 19th when he suffered his broken hand against Phoenix.
The Celtics did trail by 6 after the first quarter but then the Celtics doubled up the Raptors in the second quarter outscoring them 34-17 to take a 64-53 halftime lead. The Raptors did fight back in the third to cut the Celtics lead down to just 4 heading into the fourth quarter. But in the fourth Kyrie Irving went all Uncle Drew on the Raptors as he just took over down the stretch. Irving either scored or assisted on 24 of the last 25 Celtic points. Kyrie also, with the game tied at 106 with 2:39 left in the game, scored 5 straight points including a dager three over Kawhi Leonard with 1:39 left in the game. The Celtics would finish the game on a 17-4 run to pull win by a final of 117-108.
Seeing Kyrie express his emotions to the crowd after was something special to see. It gave me goosebumps thinking back to when guys like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Isaiah Thomas all did the same. It was in those moments we knew that those guys bled green and would do what ever it takes to win for this city. Last night was that moment for Kyrie, in that moment any doubt of him coming back this year in my opinion was put to rest. I think one day long from know we will look back at this moment on January 16, 2019 as the day we all knew that Kyrie became a true Celtic and when he began his journey to becoming a Celtic legend.
The Raptors still had some outstanding performances despite the loss. Kawhi Leonard went for 33 points and Serge Ibaka had 22 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green also had 15 points but shot just 6-15 from the floor. Kyle Lowry disappeared last night with just 10 points on 3-10 shooting. This is why I am still not scared of Toronto because even during the regular season their young stars like Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam will disappear in big games. Plus they have notorious track records for disappearing in the playoffs.
With this huge win the Celtics now sit at 26-18 on the season and 6 games back of the Raptors for first place in the east and the division. Up next the Celtics will take on the Memphis Grizzlies at home on Friday before heading to Atlanta for a quick one game road trip on Saturday. After that back to back the Celtics can get comfy in their own beds as they’ll have 5 straight home games. The homestand will feature the Heat, Cavs, Warriors, Nets, and Hornets. Looking at the next game the Celtics are already 1-0 vs Memphis this year and the win came in Memphis. The Celtics won 112-103 after over coming a 19 point half time deficit. The Celtics will look to shut down the Grizzlies stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conely and if they can do that effectively a win is almost a guaruntee. Hopefully they can get it done on Friday and get some rest before having to handle business down in Atlanta on Saturday.
And of course don’t forget to keep on voting for all your favorite Celtics stars to send them to this years All Star fesivities in Charlotte. Hit the link below and help send as many boys in green as we can to this years festivities.
Sources: Basketball-Reference.com Rotoworld.com