Celtics-Raptors takeaways: C’s survive Toronto’s fourth-quarter comeback bid originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Three Key Storylines
The Celtics were without Jayson Tatum (left ankle sprain management), Kristaps Porzingis (left calf injury management), and Al Horford (rest). Those absences forced Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet into the starting lineup, though Jaylen Brown (low back contusion) returned after missing Thursday’s overtime win against the Detroit Pistons.
Boston was in control for most of the night, leading by as many as 20 points and taking a 13-point advantage into the fourth quarter. The wheels started to come off in the final frame, however, as Toronto started on an 18-3 run to pull ahead and put the C’s TD Garden win streak in jeopardy.
It was a nightmare quarter for the C’s, but they prevailed thanks to clutch plays on both ends of the floor by Derrick White. The All-Defensive guard drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with the shot clock running out and just over three minutes left in regulation. He followed that with a lay-up that extended Boston’s lead to three points with 1:04 remaining.
Former Celtics guard Dennis Schroder missed one of his two free throws with 15.5 on the clock. That allowed Boston to escape with a 120-118 victory that keeps them undefeated at home this season at 16-0.
Brown (31 points) and White (21 points) topped the scoring column for the Celtics. Scottie Barnes (30 points, career-high seven 3-pointers) and Pascal Siakam (26 points) did their part for the Raptors.
Jaylen Brown shines in return
The back injury Brown suffered in the Celtics’ Christmas Day win over the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t appear to be bothersome on Friday night.
Brown made his presence felt early and often. The two-time All-Star opened the game 4-for-4 from 3 and tallied 15 points in the first quarter. He also notched five rebounds and three assists in the frame to join Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic (twice) and Denver Nuggets two-time MVP Nikola Jokic as the only players with such a stat line in a first quarter this season, per Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe.
Brown stayed hot in the second quarter to finish the first half with 24 points, six boards, and four assists. While he wasn’t as effective offensively in the second half (seven points), he made his mark in other ways. He earned a double-double with 10 rebounds to go with six assists.
Brown finished an efficient 11-of-16 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. He’ll look to cut down on the turnovers going forward (seven vs. Toronto), but he propelled Boston to victory with Tatum and Porzingis unavailable.
Luke Kornet holds down the frontcourt
Kornet hadn’t played since Dec. 12 due to an adductor strain, plus fellow big man Neemias Queta seemingly taking his spot in the rotation. With both Porzingis and Horford out, however, C’s coach Joe Mazzulla gave Kornet a chance to make an impact as a starter.
Offensively, Kornet was consistently in the right place at the right time. He battled in the paint to put up a season-high 20 points (9-11 FG), which also marks his Celtics career-high. His NBA career-high is 25.
Kornet put the finishing touches on his impressive night with a couple of big plays in the tightly-contested fourth quarter. He stopped a 10-0 Raptors run with a 3-point play early in the frame. With just 30 seconds remaining, he finished an alley-oop on an assist from Jaylen Brown to give Boston the lead.
In addition to his scoring, Kornet provided eight rebounds along with three assists and three blocks in 33 minutes. There were some defensive breakdowns but overall, the frontcourt was in good hands.
Queta chipped in with six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.
Turnovers nearly sink C’s
The Celtics did a nice job of taking care of the basketball during their West Coast trip, but they didn’t carry that into their two-game homestand.
After turning the ball over 10 times in the first half against Detroit, the C’s struggled in that department again vs. Toronto. Their 16 turnovers resulted in 22 Raptors points. Meanwhile, Toronto had only four turnovers in the entire game.
Boston entered Friday averaging 10.8 turnovers over its last 10 games. It has a 17-2 record this season with fewer than 15 turnovers and an 8-4 record when it has 15 or more.
That will be an area of focus when the C’s travel to San Antonio for a New Year’s Eve showdown with the Spurs.