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C’s Dominate Raps Inside the Arc, Complete Back-to-Back Sweep

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics stowed away their flashy, In-Season Tournament court following a 121-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets Friday night and brought back the classic parquet for a matchup with the Toronto Raptors just 24 hours later.

Playing on different wood against a different Atlantic Division opponent, Boston produced a similar result, blowing out Toronto, 117-94, to complete a back-to-back sweep inside TD Garden.

The C’s were led by their trio of high-volume-scoring stars, as Jaylen Brown (29 points), Jayson Tatum (27 points), and Kristaps Porzingis (21 points) combined for 65.8 percent of their scoring production in a game which they led by as many as 30 points.

Where the Celtics did most of their damage was inside the 3-point arc. They consistently got into the paint and shot 32-of-42 from 2-point range for a mark of 76.2 percent – the most efficient 2-point shooting game by any NBA team this season.

The crazy part is that the last time the Celtics shot that high from inside the arc happened to also be the last time they played Toronto on April 7, 2023, when they shot 30-of-37 for a mark of 81.1 percent –the most efficient 2-point mark by any NBA team in the 1,230 games played last season.

The Celtics have clearly found their sweet spot against the Raptors, and this time they were able to exploit Toronto inside even more thanks to the addition of Porzingis, who had a career-high-tying five dunks.

“His screening,” was key, said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “He was able to help our pick-and-roll ball-handler get some separation away from the screen, and they weren’t veering at first, and so we were able to throw back and get into a closeout and kind of create a second side action. Once they started veering, we were able to get their bigs away from the rim, and that’s where we were able to either give it to him in the post, or we were able to drive it without any rim protection.”

Also key was the presence of Tatum. The All-NBA wing posted a ridiculous plus-42 in 34 minutes of action, the third-best plus/minus mark of his career. He was also a plus-28 the previous night, giving him a total plus/minus of plus-70 over a 24-hour span.

Now, Tatum is up to a plus-166 on the season, which is by far the highest mark in the league. The next closest is teammate Jrue Holiday at plus-111. Porzingis and Derrick White are tied for seventh with plus-95s, and Brown rounds out the starting five in 14th place at plus-67.

“I just try to make good things happen when I’m on the floor, play right away, and try to impact winning,”  Tatum said. “I don’t necessarily think about plus/minus, I just try to go out there every time I’m on the floor and do the things that help us win. So hopefully I can keep that up because that means I’m doing something right.”

Mazzulla Empowers Bench

On the topic of doing right, we have to touch on the way Mazzulla is empowering his bench right now. The second-year head coach has spoken a few times early this season on how he plans to coach his second- and third-stringers during garbage time just as hard as he coaches the starters at the beginning of the game. He proved his point Saturday night.

With 3:39 remaining in a 27-point game, Toronto’s Thaddeus Young tipped the ball out of bounds, which the officials initially ruled was deflected off Boston’s Oshae Brissett. However, Brissett insisted that he never touched the ball, and so Mazzulla elected to challenge the call.

Rarely does a coach issue a challenge when his team is blowing out its opponent late in a game, and some of Toronto’s players were visibly frustrated by the decision. However, Mazzulla explained after the game that this was just an example of his desire to empower his reserves no matter the time or score.

“I don’t know if it was disrespectful or cheap to challenge in that situation, and I don’t really agree or disagree,” Mazzulla stated. “I think at the end of the day, my responsibility is to my players first. And having respect for the game, we’ve been in that situation before where we don’t shoot the last shot, we let the clock go out, we do that all the time. But with three and a half minutes to go, when you have a group of guys that check in and they are playing as hard as they can, I think it’s my responsibility to my players first. It was a clear opportunity for me to empower the players, let them know that I’m coaching you, and those minutes to me are just as important as the start of the game.”

Second-unit wing Sam Hauser understood the decision and appreciates how much Mazzulla values his and his fellow reserves’ playing time.

“That’s important to all of us too,” said Hauser, who shot 4-of-6 from long range in a 12-point effort. “If we’re out there, we want him to have our backs, and I think he does that.”