Celtics sweep back-to-back by blowing out Raptors: 10 takeaways

Celtics

The Celtics showed the strength of their multi-faceted offense.

Celtics Raptors
The Celtics offense is looking solid to start the season, but Kristaps Porzingis thinks it’ll only get better from here. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Celtics demolished the Raptors on Saturday, claiming a 117-94 victory to improve to 7-2.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Getting swept up in individual wins and losses is very easy, especially early in a season, so here’s our best attempt at measured and rational after nine games.

The Celtics are very good. Their starting lineup is as advertised and more. The addition of Kristaps Porzingis adds a dynamic element to the offense that it badly lacked. The bench struggled out of the gate but has — to borrow a phrase from Brad Stevens — added a lot to winning recently.

The Celtics blew out the Nets and Raptors on back-to-back nights. They are still figuring out how to play together, but the talent is so overwhelming that the Raptors stood very little chance in the final 24 minutes of Saturday’s game.

The Celtics have lost two games this season. Both were on the road against difficult opponents, but both showed potential problem areas, and one of those losses was to a potential Eastern Conference playoff rival that may have added by subtracting.

“There’s going to be three games where we’re going to look insane and three games where, ‘Oh, my God, it’s falling apart,’ and all the fans are going to overreact probably,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “But it’s never as high or as low as it seems.”

We don’t know how good the Celtics can be after nine games. We can say they looked really good on Saturday.

2. Jaylen Brown seemed to let the game come to him, and as a result, he led the Celtics in scoring with 29. He made a few 3-pointers, but more importantly, he got to the rim repeatedly in a variety of ways. After two quick turnovers, Brown took care of the ball the rest of the way — attacking open space in the pick-and-roll, cutting backdoor for dunks and getting out in transition.

3. The Raptors had no answers for Porzingis as a screener, which became clear pretty quickly. With Jakob Poeltl dropped back in the paint to try to contain drivers, Porzingis got free. When Poeltl came up higher, the Celtics got their preferred mismatches. When Poeltl went to the bench, the Celtics were too tall.

“He was able to help our pick-and-roll ball-handler get some separation away from the screen, and they weren’t veering at first, and so we were able to throw back and get into a close out and kind of create a second side action,” Joe Mazzulla told reporters after the game. “Once they started veering, we were able to get their bigs away from the rim, and that’s where we were able to either give it to him in the post, or we were able to drive it without any rim protection.”

Porzingis left the Raptors without any answers for the Celtics’ offense. His presence is going to exhaust a lot of defensive schemes this year.

4. Porzingis was asked about his two-man game with Brown and offered a quote that might be of interest to Celtics fans.

“I think it’s only in the beginning stages, honestly,” Porzingis said. “He’s obviously very explosive and just, his physicality, he can make so much stuff happen on the court with how he is. …

“I think our chemistry, it’s just going to get so much better. Like, I’m telling you, you’re just going to see, like it’s going to get a lot better. But I love playing with him. He creates a lot of the situations, he draws a lot of attention and it’s just opened things up for myself, for everyone else.”

5. The Raptors weren’t happy with Mazzulla after he challenged a fourth-quarter call with the game far out of reach, but Mazzulla (who, incidentally, won the challenge) offered a pretty compelling explanation.

“We’ve been in that situation before where we don’t shoot the last shot, we let the clock go out, we do that all the time,” he said. “But with three-and-a-half minutes to go, and you have a group of guys that check in and they are playing as hard as they can, I think it’s my responsibility to my players first. It was a clear opportunity for me to empower the players, to let them know that I’m coaching you, and those minutes to me are just as important as the start of the game.

“That’s what I told my players. I’ll always put them first.”

6. The Celtics were expected to struggle on the glass, but through nine games, they are third in defensive rebounding percentage at 74.8. The bigs aren’t dominating — Porzingis is in the 15th percentile among bigs as a rebounder, while Al Horford is in the 22nd, per Cleaning the Glass. But they do seem to be actively boxing out for players like Tatum (who is in the 96th percentile among forwards) and Jrue Holiday (who is in the 97th) to swoop in from the wing, which helps make up the difference.

7. Sam Hauser is doing his part as a rebounder as well — he’s in the 56th percentile among forwards, and he appears to have a nose for the ball when he’s able to crash away from the play.

Hauser also remains red-hot from 3-point range, finishing 4-for-6 from behind the arc Saturday. For the second straight game, his point total (12) was a direct multiple of his 3-point shooting (he made five threes for 15 points against the Nets on Friday).

8. Look at how nightmarish this team can be to guard.

To recap: Brown screens the screener before Porzingis runs a pick-and-roll with Holiday. As a result, Dennis Schröder gets stuck on Porzingis. Holiday passes to Porzingis, who doesn’t love his matchup behind the 3-point line with Schröder, so he passes back to Holiday. The two play catch as Porzingis backs Schröder deep into the paint, and the Raptors see the obvious turn-and-score coming, so they double Porzingis with Precious Achiuwa.

That, of course, leaves at least one player open on the weak side, so Porzingis finds Horford, who is ready to make an instant extra pass to Hauser.

Even so, the Raptors recovered pretty well, but when Hauser is hot, he’s automatic.

All of that action happened with Tatum on the bench. The ceiling is high.

9. For those scoreboard watching this early in the season, the Bucks lost again — this time 112-97 against the Magic with Damian Lillard sidelined due to a calf issue. The Bucks have the 15th-best offense in the league so far (which seems likely to jump significantly since they now employ Lillard) and the 25th-best defense in the league (which will probably go up some but could be a year-long issue since they now employ Lillard).

Acquiring Lillard was obviously an enormous moment for Milwaukee. Still, watching Holiday carve out comfortable space for himself on a contender in Boston, it’s hard not to wonder whether the Bucks will regret what they gave up.

10. After sweeping a home back-to-back, the Celtics have a third game in four nights on Monday when they take on the Knicks at TD Garden. They will then travel to Philadelphia for the second Wednesday in a row on the road against the Sixers.


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