6 takeaways, when the Celtics retreat late, grab a strange victory against the Raptors


A steady goal attack lifted the Celtics on Sunday.

Boston Celtics ’Jayson Tatum drives the Toronto Raptors past Yuta Watanabe. Chris Young / The Canadian Press through AP

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics retired late in a quiet odd victory against the 109-97 Raptors on Sunday.

1. What do we think of Jayson Tatum’s performance on Sunday – a 2-16 shot that only produced eight points but included seven rebounds and 10 assists? And what do you think the Celtics were clearly better at when he was in the game (Tatum was +13) despite those firing fights?

All credit to Tatum: He helped Celtics win, even though he couldn’t find the area. Celtics coach Ime Udoka stated that Celtics had 24 assists in 34 field goals, which he attributed largely to Tatum.

“He just has to – sometimes – be the guy who attracts guys there,” Udoka said. “Be somewhat tempted and pull that crowd so you can see everyone else eating from him tonight.

“So thank you to him for playing right, not frustrated and then staying in it.”

Our best attempt to contextualize Tatum’s problem: He’s had a bad three-point reach all season, and much of his scoring is based on three-point shots. Tatum’s last game in last week’s 30-point series featured a lousy 1-9 performance behind the arc, with Tatum shooting just 5-30 (16 per cent) in the last four games from deep. He must continue shooting three-pointers. He also needs to start making them consistently.

Still, the Celtics are better at playing because his opponents pay a lot of attention to him and he’s improved considerably as a pitcher. If you believe Tatum’s shot numbers are constantly leveling off, there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about those numbers.

2. Grant Williams and Enes Kanter – coming soon Enes Kanter Freedom – were once again fixed. Williams was perhaps Celtics ’best player in the first half, scoring 15 effective points and continuing to drop by 3 points (3-4). She is The only member of the NBA 50-40-90 club this season (51.4 percent off the field, 43.1 percent on three and 90.5 percent on free throw lines).

Kanter, on the other hand, grabbed 10 rebounds and was once again inexplicably poor in defense. His screening continues to be positive, and Udoka admitted he was considering leaving Kanter on the floor late against Spurs (a game where Kanter had a team record of +28 in an eight-point loss).

“It doesn’t always show up in the stats, but nine points, 10 rebounds, offensive glass, as I mentioned,” Udoka said. “He’s a great screen setter, so all those things sometimes go unnoticed.”

Health worried the Celtics big before 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 the gaps just fine.

3. After the game, Ime Udoka told reporters that Josh Richardson was exhausted after returning from an absence caused by the flu.

“Who told you that?” Richardson asked when asked if he needed a respite.

He got the information.

“Grapevine is crazy,” Richardson muttered.

Richardson played well – 18 points in a 6-11 bag, and Marcus Smart praised his defense against Fred Van Vleet – but he admitted he got gas.

“After about six minutes, seven minutes, I said to Same, ‘Yeah, take me out, please take me out.’ I was tired,” he said. “But that’s how it should be. Give it everything you have when you’re out and when you’re too tired, just sit for a moment.”

4. Marcus Smart scored 21 points (7-16), eight rebounds and six assists, and he scored a couple of decisive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, helping Celtics build an insurmountable lead.

In the last 10 games, Smart has averaged 13 points and 7.1 assists and only 1.8 assists.

“He played a great game,” Udoka said.

5. Raptors fans got hot from the differences in free throws in the first half – the Celtics were 18-18, while the Raptors were 3-3-3. That number leveled off a bit during the game, but the Celtics still nearly doubled in the Raptors ’free throw attempts (31-16).

6. We’ve found in the past that NBC Sports Boston broadcasts recall key moments in Celtics ’history as the NBA celebrates its 75th season. Sunday broadcast returned to 1990, when Celtics honored longtime radio announcer Johnny Most, best known for barking “Havlicek stole the ball!” into the sandpaper of cigarettes with a roughened voice.

On Sunday, Brian Scalabrine asked Mike Gorman when he first met Most. Gorman said his longtime TV partner, Tommy Heinsohn, ate with Most every night in the media room, and Most once coached Gorman to find a slogan – to which he could return constantly in big moments.

Gorman and Most worked on a few options, and the duo ended up with Gorman’s perhaps most iconic phrase, “All right!”

The top behind the curtain was fascinating.

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

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