Playing in the city’s Amalie Arena this season, there were likely as many if not more Celtic fans in the seats, itself a novelty of sorts as the Raptors “home” game went to pot in a hurry against Boston, who played some of the best basketball of their 2020-21 season for the first three quarters of the contest despite a number of key players sitting. Marcus Smart (thumb) was a late scratch, joining Kemba Walker (knee), Romeo Langford (wrist), Jeff Teague (ankle) and Javonte Green (health and safety protocols) as out for the 126 – 114 win.
“I missed playing in front of people,” said Tatum after the game. “There were a lot of Boston fans here today, so that … felt different.”
In truth it was more of a blowout than it looked, the Celtics’ deep rotation letting the Raptors get back into it in the fourth quarter — even necessitating a return to the floor of benched starters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum after pushing the lead as high as 26 points in the second half.
The latter came up a point shy of his career high in the game, Tatum scoring 40 points and 6 rebounds, including a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line, and a sizzling 5-of-8 from deep.
Brown put up a casual 19 points and 5 boards casually, while rookie floor general Payton Pritchard nearly stole the show with a career-high 23 points and 8 assists off the bench.
Forward Grant Williams added 14 points and 6 boards, and reserve forward Semi Ojeleye scored 12 points and 8 rebounds in the win.
While the now 1-5 Raptors may not be the team many thought they might at the start of the season, the connected play throughout most of the game is a big step forward for a team that can’t afford to slack off in any area before getting back to full strength.