Celtics

6 takeaways as Celtics pull away late, claim odd win vs. Raptors

A balanced scoring attack lifted the Celtics on Sunday.

Raptors Celtics
Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum drives past Toronto Raptors' Yuta Watanabe. Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics pulled away late in a quietly strange 109-97 victory over the Raptors on Sunday.

1. What do we make of Jayson Tatum’s performance on Sunday — a 2-for-16 shooting performance that yielded just eight points, but included seven rebounds and 10 assists? And what do we make of the fact that the Celtics were clearly better when he was in the game (Tatum was +13) despite those shooting struggles?

All credit due to Tatum: He helped the Celtics win even though he couldn’t find the range. Celtics coach Ime Udoka noted that the Celtics had 24 assists on 34 field goals, which he credited in large part to Tatum.

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“He’s just got to — at times — be the guy that’s going to bait guys out there,” Udoka said. “Be the decoy to some extent and draw that crowd, and you see everybody else pretty much ate off of him tonight.

“So credit to him for playing the right way, not getting frustrated and then sticking with it.”

Our best attempt to contextualize the Tatum conundrum: He has been bad from 3-point range all season, and much of his scoring is predicated on 3-point shooting. The final game in Tatum’s stretch of 30-point performances last week included an abysmal 1-for-9 performance from behind the arc, and Tatum has shot just 5-for-30 (16 percent) in his last four games from deep. He needs to keep shooting 3-pointers. He also needs to start making them consistently.

Still, the Celtics are better when he plays because opposing teams pay him a ton of attention, and he has improved drastically as a passer. If you believe Tatum’s shooting numbers will level out consistently, there’s a lot of reason for optimism baked into those numbers.

2. Grant Williams and Enes Kanter — soon to be Enes Kanter Freedom — were both solid once again. Williams was perhaps the Celtics’ best player in the first half, and he finished with 15 efficient points while continuing to drop 3-pointers (3-for-4). He is the NBA’s only member of the 50-40-90 club this season (51.4 percent from the field, 43.1 percent from three, and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line).

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Kanter, meanwhile, pulled down 10 rebounds and was once again inexplicably not bad at defense. His screening continues to be a positive, and Udoka acknowledged he considered leaving Kanter on the floor late against the Spurs (a game in which Kanter was a team-high +28 in an eight-point loss).

“Doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but nine points, 10 rebounds, offensive glass like I mentioned,” Udoka said. “He’s a great screen setter, so all those things go unnoticed at times.”

Health was a concern for Celtics’ bigs prior to the season — Robert Williams has always struggled to stay on the floor, and Al Horford is getting older — but Grant Williams and Kanter have filled in the gaps nicely.

3. After the game, Ime Udoka told reporters Josh Richardson was exhausted in his return from a flu-related absence.

“Who told you that?” Richardson asked, when queried about needing a breather.

He was informed.

“Grapevine’s crazy,” Richardson muttered.

Richardson played well — 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, and Marcus Smart praised his defense against Fred Van Vleet — but he did admit to being gassed.

“After about six minutes in there, seven minutes, I told Ime, ‘Yeah get me out, please get me out.’ I was tired,” he said. “But that’s how it should be. Give it everything you got while you’re out there and when you’re too tired, just sit down for a little bit.”

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4. Marcus Smart finished with 21 points (7-for-16), eight rebounds, and six assists, and he made a pair of crucial 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that helped the Celtics build an insurmountable lead.

Over the last 10 games, Smart is averaging 13 points and 7.1 assists with just 1.8 turnovers.

“He played a great game,” Udoka said.

5. Raptors fans were heated about the free-throw disparity in the first half — the Celtics were 18-for-18, while the Raptors were 3-for-3. That number evened out a bit over the course of the game, but the Celtics still nearly doubled the Raptors in free-throw attempts (31-16).

6. We’ve noted in the past that NBC Sports Boston broadcasts are remembering key moments in Celtics history as the NBA celebrates its 75th season. On Sunday, the broadcast flashed back to 1990, when the Celtics honored long-time radio play-by-play announcer Johnny Most — best known for barking “Havlicek stole the ball!” in a voice roughened to sandpaper by cigarettes.

On Sunday, Brian Scalabrine asked Mike Gorman about the first time he met Most. Gorman said his longtime TV partner Tommy Heinsohn used to eat with Most every night in the media room, and Most once coached Gorman to find a catchphrase — something he could go back to consistently at big moments.

Gorman and Most workshopped a few options, and the duo ultimately settled on what is perhaps Gorman’s most iconic phrase: “Got it!”

The peak behind the curtain was fascinating.

The Celtics face the Sixers at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

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