Celtics, Sans Four Starters, Fight to OT in Toronto

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Playing without four starters on the second night of a back-to-back in a hostile Toronto environment could have resulted in a nightmarish outcome for the Boston Celtics Monday night. Instead, they pushed the surging Raptors into overtime and nearly squeaked by with an upset win at Scotiabank Arena.

Boston didn’t have Jaylen Brown (right knee tendinopathy), Al Horford (personal reasons), Jayson Tatum (right patella tendinopathy), or Rob Williams (left knee lateral meniscus tear) for its Atlantic Division battle, but it did have Marcus Smart and a formidable group of backups who were eager to keep Boston’s six-game winning streak alive.

However, despite holding a four-point lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation, the C’s could not hold off a late Raptors rally. Pascal Siakam scored the final four points of the fourth quarter to force overtime before Toronto snuck away with a 115-112 win.

“I said to the group, ‘Hell of a night fighting,’ especially on the second night of a back-to-back shorthanded,” C’s head coach Ime Udoka relayed to the media after the game. “But there’s a lot of things we left on the table – kind of shot ourselves in the foot. Loved the fight, loved the effort, we had our chances, and I gave the group props for that.”

The figurative foot that the Celtics shot themselves in was the turnover department; they coughed the ball up nearly twice as many times as Toronto (18-10), which resulted in the Raptors attempting 13 more field goals.

But aside from that slip-up, the Celtics did a remarkable job filling its gaps. Smart stepped up with season highs of 28 points and 10 rebounds and was one of seven Celtics players to reach double-figures.

Each member of Boston’s new-look starting five contributed handsomely: Grant Williams tallied 17 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks; Derrick White notched 15 points, six rebounds, and eight assists; Daniel Theis logged a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds; and Aaron Nesmith recorded 13 points and two steals.

Off the bench: Payton Pritchard stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, and five assists; rookie Sam Hauser dropped in a career-high 10 points; and Luke Kornet contributed with six points and seven boards.

Having some of those guys, who rarely see the court, get significant playing time against a playoff-caliber team was crucial from Udoka’s viewpoint.

“It’s invaluable to get those guys those live reps,” said the first-year head coach. “They are going to be in certain situations at times. Obviously, with all the guys missing, it may not be that same lineup, but to see them out there in crunch-time situations is beneficial. It gets them that experience and, as you saw, injuries happen and guys have to be ready. And so, great night by a lot of guys.”

To see his teammates come out and nearly beat the odds was a promising sign in the eyes of Marcus Smart. He and the regular starters have been building winning habits together, and the reserves have been picking up on those habits as they displayed Monday night.

“To be able to have guys come in and keep that culture alive, it just speaks volumes to what Ime and everybody on this roster has done to prepare for that,” said Smart. “We had to go through some stuff that we would probably never want to go through again or endure. But it’s part of it and those types of moments make you stronger for moments like this.”

The Celtics hope to have at least a couple of their regular starters back by Wednesday when they host the first-place Miami Heat. Though, no matter what their lineup looks like, they’re certain that they’ll be able to put up another fight.