By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Celtics moved one step closer to locking down the No. 3 seed in the East on Friday, and all it took was a beatdown of the defending NBA champion (and second-best team in the East) Raptors, 122-100.
And for the Celtics, the victory was earned by stingy first-half defense that held the Raptors to just 14 points in the first quarter, and just 37 by the end of the first half. In what was their lowest-scoring first half of the year, the Raptors entered halftime with just three makes on 19 attempts (19!) from deep. The Celtics, meanwhile, used the opening 24 minutes to jump out to a 15-point lead, with Jaylen Brown and Daniel Theis leading the way with 11 points each on a combined 8-for-16 from the floor.
The difference between these sides in this one, of course, was the battle between Jayson Tatum and the Raps' Pascal Siakam.
In a battle of two of the best young wings in the NBA, Tatum held advantages over Siakam across the board, with Tatum finishing above Siakam in scoring (17-11), rebounds (7-2), and assists (4-0).
"It's amazing how he can knock down these shoots and have absolutely no rhythm in the game." Yea, he IS amazing.#Celtics Rewind is Presented by @TMobileWatch on @NBCSBoston or stream: https://t.co/Xmx7Whh8Zt pic.twitter.com/rXP5CHkX4a
And though Tatum's victory over Siakam was the difference, it was Brown who led the Celtics yet again, with 20 points on 7-for-14 (4-for-8 from deep) in just over 31 minutes of action. The four-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic hasn't slowed down Brown at all, actually, as this was Brown's 10th game of at least 20 points in his last 11 outings.
Guard Kemba Walker returned to action after sitting out Wednesday's win over the Nets to get his knee some extra rest and recovery on the second leg of a back-to-back, and finished with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting and four assists in 22:54.
The C's will lock up the No. 3 seed with either a win or Miami loss. No. 2 is still on the table for the Green, too, though that'd require the Raptors losing their next four games and the Celtics winning their next three.
Tatum & Co. return to the court on Sunday at 5 p.m. against the Magic.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.