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Kyrie Irving, Celtics Earn Tough 123-116 OT Win over Kawhi Leonard, Raptors

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 14:  Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics reacts during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on November 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Things appear to be coming together for the Boston Celtics after their 123-116 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden on Friday. 

On the heels of a 29-point win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, the Celtics kept their momentum going by handing the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors their third straight loss. 

With an air of playoff intensity in the arena, the Raptors and Celtics traded power punches early. Both teams came back from double-digit deficits in regulation. Kyrie Irving put Boston on his back with a season-high 43 points and 11 assists.  

Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds, had a chance to win the game for Toronto at the end of the fourth quarter, but his attempt hit off the front of the rim. 


Red-Hot Kyrie Makes Celtics the East’s Most Dangerous Team

It’s not a secret that Boston’s offense has been missing in this still-young 2018-19 campaign. The Celtics entered their game ranked 24th in scoring (105.6 points per game) and efficiency (105.8 points per 100 possessions). 

Irving is trying to play more of a natural point guard role, distributing the ball to his teammates, but since players like Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown have struggled, it hasn’t been an effective strategy. 

Averaging just 16.3 shot attempts through his first 13 games, Irving is on pace for his lowest total since his rookie season in 2011-12 (14.5). 

Playing against a marquee opponent on national television Friday seemed to ignite a fire in Irving:

When the Celtics needed a play in the fourth quarter, Irving put up seven straight points much to the joy of fans inside TD Garden:

The problem has been trying to find a secondary option. Tatum filled that role in a big way against the Raptors, shooting a season-high 61.5 percent en route to 21 points. 

Moving forward, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has avenues to explore to get more consistency from the offense.

One logical solution is to swap Brown with Marcus Morris. Brown missed his final seven shots after starting 3-of-4 from the floor against Toronto and is shooting just 38.3 percent overall.

Morris’ game isn’t dissimilar from Brown’s—both players don’t create much on their own but are more than happy to take any open shot when available—but he’s shooting 50.4 percent overall and 48.4 percent from behind the arc. 

Brown, 22, is younger and has a much higher ceiling than the 29-year-old Morris, but the Celtics aren’t in a position to worry about the future when they have a roster built to win big now. 

Irving proved Friday his shooting touch is good enough to will Boston’s offense to victory, but it’s time for someone to become a strong No. 2 if the Celtics are going to play up to their full potential. 

The Celtics’ deep pool of talent coming together in a showcase game to earn a win against the Raptors speaks well about what their next five months will look like.  


Raptors’ Weak 3-Point Shooting Exposed in Three-Game Losing Streak

As the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with the three-pointer, the Raptors are unique because they win despite their shooting limitations. 

Coming into Friday, Toronto ranked 21st with a 33.9 percent success rate from three-point range. That number will go down after an 8-of-29 performance against the Celtics. 

The Philadelphia 76ers, who have been connected to virtually every available shooter on the trade market, are slightly better at making threes (34.5 percent) than the Raptors. 

That lack of shooting touch has started catching up to Toronto. 

Dating back to Monday’s loss against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Raptors have shot 25-of-94 from long range. 

Leonard has lost his touch by making one of his last 13 three-pointers over the past four games. Kyle Lowry is shooting 26.1 percent from deep in eight games this month, compared to 42.3 percent in eight October games. 

A long NBA season will feature many ebbs and flows, but the Raptors must realize they need a quick course correction before the Celtics and new-look 76ers find their footing and chase them down in the Atlantic Division. 


What’s Next?

The Raptors will play the second leg of their four-game road trip Saturday against the Chicago Bulls at 8 p.m. ET. The Celtics conclude their three-game homestand Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Utah Jazz. 

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