Playing shorthanded in a hostile road environment on the second night of a back-to-back meant the Boston Celtics needed a near-flawless effort to come out of Toronto with a win Monday night.
With a mostly mistake-free second half, the C’s were able to do just that, overcoming a double-digit first-half deficit before walking out of Scotiabank Arena with a 116-110 win.
After turning the ball over nine times in the first half, Boston came out of the break only to commit one turnover in the third quarter and one more in the fourth. Its two turnovers in the second half were the fewest the team has had in any half in more than a year (Dec. 3, 2021, vs. Utah), its fewest in a second half since April 17, 2021, vs. Golden State, and its fewest in the second half on the road since Feb. 23, 2019, at Chicago.
Making the feat even more impressive is the fact that Toronto leads the NBA in steals and forces the second-most turnovers in the league.
“With the guys that they have on their team, they're capable of doing so many different things,” Jayson Tatum said of Toronto’s switch-heavy defense after leading Monday's matchup in both points (31) and rebounds (12). “They can throw a lineup out with five guys who are basically the same height that can switch everything, full-court press, box-and-one, 2-3 (zone), and their energy never drops. Whoever they sub in, they maintain or go up another level. They all play hard, they all compete, and they’re physical. It's been like that for the last couple of years, so you just got to be prepared. They force a lot of turnovers, so you gotta take care of the ball, or else it’s going to be a long night.”
Such is especially the case when the Raptors are playing north of the border. Scotiabank Arena is known as one of the most hostile environments in the league and Toronto had benefitted from that atmosphere with a 9-2 home record versus a 3-9 road record prior to Monday night’s matchup.
“It’s hard to win up here in Toronto,” said Marcus Smart after logging 18 points, seven assists, and two steals. “It’s tough. They get that crowd going, they get that energy up in the arena, and it fuels the guys.”
However, the road energy also fuels Boston’s players. Jayson Tatum has expressed throughout his career how much he enjoys playing in those hostile environments and likes playing as the underdog.
The Celtics, despite owning the best record in the league, were in that position Monday night, as 1.5-point underdogs according to Las Vegas odds. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back and being without both Al Horford (low back stiffness) and Malcolm Brogdon (non-COVID illness) factored into those odds.
On most nights, the odds will be in Boston’s favor, but knowing that they can also come out on top when they’re not necessarily expected to win is gratifying.
“When we put our minds to it, we can beat anybody,” said Tatum. “It’s a choice that we’ve gotta make. We can make an excuse that we had two guys out – four guys out, actually (including Rob Williams and Danilo Gallinari) – second night of a back-to-back, we could’ve just chalked this one up, but we wanted to figure it out. We’ve got a bigger goal in mind, it’s one game at a time, but these are the steps you’ve gotta take to get there.”
Brown Keeps Impressive Streak Alive
On the topic of turnovers – or lack thereof – Jaylen Brown has quite an impressive streak going.
Monday night’s game marked Brown’s second straight outing without committing a turnover despite being the most active playmaker in the game, handing out a season-high-tying eight assists against the Raptors. In fact, he nearly pulled off a triple-double by adding 22 points and eight rebounds to his stat line.
JB has now gone nearly 92 minutes without a turnover dating back to midway through the fourth quarter of Friday night’s overtime loss to the Miami Heat. It’s been quite a turnaround after committing a total of nine turnovers during last week's two-game Heat miniseries in Boston.
Brown will look to keep his remarkable streak alive Wednesday night when the C’s take on the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns in the third tilt of their six-game road trip.