The Toronto Raptors (25-13) put on a clinic in late-game execution Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics (23-15), and the end result was a 114-106 come-from-behind win at Air Canada Centre.
DeMar DeRozan was exceptional in crunch time and finished with a season-high 41 points (16-of-29 shooting) after he mustered 10 in the first half, and he received strong support from Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas on a night when his All-Star campaign received a major lift.
NBA TV on Twitter relayed video of DeRozan nailing a clutch turnaround jumper with 1:30 remaining to give the Raptors a four-point lead:
Lowry added 24 points and nine assists, while Valanciunas dominated the interior in the second half and totaled 18 points to go with a career-high 23 rebounds. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Valanciunas joined Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside and DeAndre Jordan as the only players with at least 18 points and 23 boards in a game this season.
TSN's Josh Lewenberg noted Valanciunas—whose effectiveness has been questioned at times this season—came up big with a chance to prove he's still a core member of the team:
The Celtics were led by 27 points from Isaiah Thomas and 16 from Marcus Smart, but they nailed just nine threes as a team after converting at least 17 attempts from beyond the arc during the four-game winning streak that they carried into Tuesday night's contest.
That said, the Celtics had to be encouraged by what they saw from Smart even in defeat.
The third-year guard—who drew a start in place of the banged-up Avery Bradley—went to work throughout the first two quarters to the tune of 14 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-13. To put that number in perspective, no other Celtics starter went into halftime with a plus/minus rating higher than plus-two.
And while Smart has never been regarded as a potential primary option on offense, The Vertical's Chris Mannix noted the Oklahoma State product looked confident when tasked with primary ball-handling duties at times on Tuesday night:
The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor pointed to one of Smart's adversaries as a potential source of inspiration as his evolution continues:
The Celtics entered the break with a nine-point cushion because of Smart's savvy and Toronto's general inability to get clean looks against a stingy Boston defense, but the Raptors used DeRozan's 19-point third quarter and an 8-0 run toward the end of the frame to close the gap to four entering the fourth.
ESPN.com's Zach Lowe noted the Celtics' dearth of rim protection encouraged DeRozan to drive hard to the rim and facilitated Boston's downfall:
DeRozan's aggressiveness carried over into the fourth quarter, and at that point, he assumed the form of a human fire emoji.
The two-time All-Star was a man on a mission who carried the Raptors offense on his shoulders, and he churned out clutch bucket after clutch bucket to erase a Celtics lead that climbed as high as 16 points at one point in the third quarter.
And if Tuesday's tight clash is any indication, the Raptors and Celtics should continue to provide compelling theater as the season presses on.
The Atlantic Division foes are slated to meet two more times this season (Feb. 1 and Feb. 24), and the pressure will be on the Celtics to come up with a pair of wins after the Raptors captured victories in the first pair of affairs.
But in the short term, the Celtics will have to refocus and do so quickly since they're slated to clash with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night in the second half of a back-to-back.
The story differs for the Raptors, who will be off until Friday when they host the Brooklyn Nets before the New York Knicks come to town to cap off a Big Apple doubleheader on Sunday.
After the win, DeRozan spoke to NBA TV about his stellar display:
As for Valanciunas, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey noted Tuesday was a step forward for the Lithuanian big man.
"Is he a finished product? No. But tonight he was," Casey said, according to Lewenberg.
On Boston's side, Celtics.com's Marc D'Amico relayed Stevens' thoughts regarding where the game got away from his team:
But overall, Stevens sounded pleased with his team's fight.
"I probably saw more encouraging signs of progress than negative," he said, according to the team's official Twitter account.