Celtics roll past Raptors, take 1-0 East semis lead
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Boston Celtics clearly have the formula to create problems for the Toronto Raptors.
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart each scored 21 points, Kemba Walker added 18 points and 10 assists and the Celtics never trailed on the way to beating the Raptors 112-94 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Sunday.
The Celtics improved to 4-1 against the Raptors this season — no other team has beaten the reigning NBA champions more than twice — and both of their meetings in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World have been one-sided.
“You got a team like Toronto, the defending champs, a really, really good team and they know what it takes … you have to be locked in even more,” Smart said. “And that’s just (what) we try to come out and do.”
Toronto is 0-2 against Boston at Disney, losing by a combined 40 points and not leading for a single moment in those two games. The Raptors are 11-0 at Disney against everybody else.
Jaylen Brown scored 17 points and Daniel Theis finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds for Boston, which is 5-0 in this postseason — though Celtics coach Brad Stevens dismissed any notion that control of the series has been secured.
“We’re not even in the ballpark of doing that yet,” Stevens said. We won one game.”
Kyle Lowry had 17 points for Toronto, which got 15 from Serge Ibaka, 13 from Pascal Siakam on a day where he was slowed big-time by early foul trouble and 12 from OG Anunoby. The Raptors were outscored 51-30 from 3-point range.
Lowry said the toll of the events of recent days and weeks, including the three-day stoppage of play last week in response to the shooting by police in Wisconsin of Jacob Blake, a Black man, is weighing heavily on players.
“Basketball always matters, but in this situation, at this time, it’s taking a backseat,” Lowry said. “Yes, it’s our job and we’re going to go out there and perform at the highest level we can possibly perform at. There’s no excuses, but we have an obligation right now to use our platform. That’s why we’re still here.”
Toronto has lost four games by more than 15 points this season — three of them against Boston. The Celtics won by 22 on Aug. 7, 18 on Sunday and 16 on Christmas Day. The other was a 20-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 11.
The final moments of the second and third quarters gave Boston big lifts.
Toronto had the ball, down by 12, with 32 seconds left in the first half when Tatum intercepted a pass and got loose for a dunk — followed by a stop at the other end and Walker hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 59-42 halftime lead.
Down by 13 late in the third, Toronto couldn’t control a rebound and extended a Boston possession with 3.1 seconds left. Tatum hit a baseline jumper as time expired, and the lead was 88-73 going into the final 12 minutes.
“Tough day for us, right?” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “Nothing was much fun out there today.”
Celtics: Boston has now won seven consecutive Game 1s, the longest such streak for the Celtics since taking 11 consecutive 1-0 series leads between the start of the 1985 playoffs and the 1987 NBA Finals. … Theis had 15 rebounds, total, in the first-round sweep of Philadelphia.
Raptors: Toronto trailed 39-23 after one quarter, the sixth-worst point differential in a span of 547 quarters — including playoffs — played by the Raptors going back to Jan. 16, 2019. … The Raptors have lost Game 1 in 14 of their last 18 series.
No Raptors starter reached double digits in scoring until 1:26 remained in the third quarter. By then, four Celtics starters were in double figures and the fifth — Theis — was already up to 14 rebounds.
As was the case Saturday, the NBA paid pregame tribute to the recent deaths of former player Clifford Robinson, Hall of Fame coach Lute Olsen and beloved actor Chadwick Boseman with a pregame moment of silence.
The Raptors and Celtics knelt for that moment and the playings of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O Canada” that immediately followed.
The tribute and anthems took just over four minutes. “It was very sad to see him leave us so early,” Ibaka said of Boseman.
Game 2 is Tuesday.
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