For the third time this season, the Boston Celtics faced off against the No. 1 in the East Toronto Raptors. The Celtics hosted the Raptors on Wednesday night, claiming their second win against the Raptors this season.
The two teams played each other for the first time of the year early this season in Toronto back in October, and the Raptors, with newly acquired forward Kawhi Leonard, beat the C’s 113-101. The two teams met for the second time nearly a month later at the Garden. Boston defended their house, winning 123-116.
Wednesday marked the third seasonal matchup between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses. Kyrie Irving’s career-high 18-assist game and Gordon Hayward’s 18 points off the bench propelled the Celtics to a confidence-building 117-108 victory, giving them a 2-1 edge over the Raptors in the season series with one more game to play slated for February.
“It felt good, I mean to get this win against a great team like the Raptors,” Irving said. “And obviously, capable of playing against the best and being the best.”
G-Time was instrumental in the win Wednesday night with his 16 first-half points to build up the Celtics’ lead. In the first quarter, he made three of the five Boston shots in a matter of two minutes to cut into Toronto’s early lead.
At the very end of the first half, Irving dished out one of his 18 assists to Hayward who made a 7-foot driving floating jump shot with under one second on the clock, giving the C’s a 64-53 lead at the half.
“I thought he shared the ball well,” Hayward said about his teammate. “[He] balanced scoring for himself, and facilitating.”
The Celtics held the lead from eight minutes left in the second until eight minutes in the fourth quarter, when Leonard made a 9-foot jumper. The lead continued to change hands until 2:15 was left on the clock and Irving made a 19-foot step back jumper.
One of the unsung heroes of this Celtics team is Aron Baynes, who made his return to the lineup on Wednesday after recovering from surgery on his right hand. Baynes might not light up a stat sheet, but he certainly adds a dimension to the Celtics, and they were happy to have him back.
“The little things that he does, the rebounds, the box-outs, hitting guys when they’re cutting through the lane and then the big three [late in the game tonight] too, that was huge,” Hayward said. “He’s a voice out there for us, a defensive anchor and we’ve missed him.”
The big three for the Celtics in the win were Irving, Hayward and center Al Horford. Irving put up another double-double with 27 points and 18 assists, and Horford added 24 of his own.
Hayward played one of his best games of the season scoring 18 in 24 minutes. Hayward also had 5 assists, the most on the Celtics roster behind Irving. G-Time went 8-13 shooting and 2-5 on 3-point field goals.
The Celtics climb the rankings to 26-18 and are now six games back from the Milwaukee Bucks who are in first with a 32-12 record. The Toronto Raptors fall to 33-13 and are now second in the Eastern Conference thanks to the Celtics.
The Celtics will host the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night at home. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. ET.