Boston Celtics survive furious fourth-quarter rally from Toronto Raptors, win 120-118

Boston Celtics survive furious fourth-quarter rally from Toronto Raptors, win 120-118

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Having survived the ultimate trap game on Thursday night — an overtime, skin-of-their-teeth win against the historically terrible Detroit Pistons — the Boston Celtics entered the second half of their back-to-back hoping things might come a bit easier against the Toronto Raptors. Through three quarters, that’s exactly what they appeared to have found tonight, but a furious Toronto fourth-quarter rally pushed them to the absolute limit. A heroic late effort from Derrick White and a close call in the final seconds earned the Celtics their 25th win, 120-118.

The Hospital Celtics were once again in effect tonight, as the Celtics played their second game in as many nights with multiple players sidelined due to injury or maintenance. Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis sat out, leaving the team with a starting lineup of Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet and an opportunity for big minutes off the bench for the likes of Oshae Brissett and Dalano Banton.

Among the shorthanded lineup, Brown led the way with 30 points, White scored 21 (nine in the fourth quarter) and Kornet had his best night as a Celtic with 20 points, his most with the franchise. Toronto’s star duo of Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes caused the Celtics significant issues down the stretch, combining for 57 points on the night.

Despite the absences, the Celtics did not start this game in as sluggish a fashion as their close call against Detroit the night before. Their defense smothered the Raptors — who struggle in the half court under normal circumstances, let alone against this good of a defensive unit — and their offense stuck 35 points on Toronto’s heads behind hot three-point shooting. Guiding the way was an electric start from Brown, who compiled 15 first quarter points on 4-of-4 shooting from deep to lead Boston to a 35-20 lead after one.

The Celtics lack of depth lead to some adventurous lineups as this game progressed. They started the second quarter with a lineup of White-Pritchard-Mykhailiuk-Hauser-Kornet, and in total used five players off their bench. This was a great opportunity for some of their lesser-used players to make a statement, and as a whole, the reserves made a positive impact tonight.

Despite the unorthodox nature of the Boston rotation, the Raptors couldn’t gain much ground. The two teams remained more or less even as the Celtics mined their depth for minutes, with Boston continuing to win the minutes Brown was on the floor. Brown advanced his game-high scoring total to 24 points at halftime, and the Celtics entered the break with a 68-53 lead.

Boston’s lead remained in the teens through much of the third quarter. Though Siakam assumed the game high in scoring by reaching 25 midway through the period and Barnes began to find some traction with a made three and a savvy play to earn a pair of transition free throws, the Raptors were only able to crawl within 13 points of the Celtics for a few fleeting moments. The cavernous divide in three-point shooting — 53% for the Celtics through three quarters, compared to 33% for Toronto — helped Boston maintain an advanced. Both teams cracked 30 points for the second consecutive quarter, and the Celtics entered the final frame with a 99-86 lead.

The Celtics’ lead went from “comfortable” to “worrisome” in the blink of an eye as the fourth quarter began. The Raptors compiled a 10-0 run in just under two minutes of play to slice the Boston advantage all the way down to three points, and cut it to just one moments later. Short-handed and playing on tired legs, the Celtics looked to be really feeling the back-to-back at this point. Toronto’s surge extended to 18-3 in only four minutes of play, and just like that, they took the lead for the first time since the 8:45 mark of the first quarter.

Brown returned to the game near the midway point of the fourth quarter and quickly found his way to the rim for a layup — just the second made field goal for the Celtics in six minutes of game time. The play was quickly overridden, though, by Barnes’ sixth three-pointer of the night, putting the Raptors ahead by three. Shortly thereafter, with Toronto ahead by two points, Barnes drew a foul on White on a drive to the basket, which Joe Mazzulla quickly challenged. The challenge was successful, with Kornet touching the ball on its way out of bounds, so the foul was taken off the board but Toronto was given possession. The possession ended with a 24-second violation after a highlight-reel block from Kornet.

Given the chance to tie the game, Brown committed an offensive foul on the ensuing possession, but the Celtics were able to reclaim the lead moments later on a three-pointer from White with just 3:21 left to play. Siakam again knotted the game up by splitting a pair of free throws, making the score 110 apiece as the teams entered the final three minutes.

Clutch time, as it increasingly seems to go, belonged to Derrick White. The lead changed hands twice on the next few possessions, with Gary Trent Jr. cashing in a three before Brown hit a two and White converted a pair of free throws. From there, White connected on another shot at the rim to put the Celtics back ahead by three with exactly a minute left in regulation. Barnes tied the game back up with another three — his seventh — but Brown found Kornet on an alley-oop to answer. On the ensuing possession, Kornet fouled Schroder on a drive to the basket — upheld up on review — but Schroder split the attempts, allowing the Celtics to play the free throw game in the closing moments.

After a timeout, the Raptors fouled Holiday, who also split his free throws, leaving Boston ahead by two points heading into the closing moments. Toronto found Barnes for an isolation on their final possession, but his layup attempt couldn’t find paydirt. After an intentional foul added another point to the Boston total, the game appeared to end — except that White was whistled for an off-ball personal foul on Toronto’s Hail Mary three-point attempt, giving the Raptors two shots at the free throw line with 1.4 seconds on the clock. Siakam made his first attempt, but his intentional miss on the second led to nothing, and the Celtics finally walked away with an incredibly narrow win.

Next up, the Celtics will travel to San Antonio to face off with the NBA’s second-worst team, record-wise, as they play the Spurs on New Year’s Eve at 7 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.

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