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Celtics keep race for East’s top seed close with win over Raptors

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BOSTON — All over the final minutes of a disheartening and lopsided loss to the Toronto Raptors in early February, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens trotted out a three-bigs lineup and told his gamers to plod a 2-three zone protection.

The community enjoyed sensible success, or at the least more success than what Boston had achieved earlier that night. Restful, Stevens chalked it up as simply “testing things.” On condition that the Raptors led by as mighty as 29, Stevens wasn’t about to imply they had found some form of antidote.

Rapidly-ahead two months.

With the accidents to Stevens’ roster forcing him to routinely explore the unconventional, the Celtics again threw zone appears to be like to be at the visiting Raptors on Saturday night. And whereas it was removed from perfect, it was sufficient of a curveball to abet the surging Celtics emerge with a 110-99 triumph at TD Garden.

While the Celtics remain two games abet of the East-leading Raptors, Saturday’s salvage makes things reasonably more intelligent coming into the final calendar month of the long-established season. These two teams meet again Wednesday in Toronto in what in overall is a battle for first train.

Boston’s salvage Saturday night would perchance perchance even comprise also vaulted Stevens to the entrance of the Coach of the Year balloting.

The Celtics introduced abet honest four gamers from closing year’s East finalist and lost their All-Star free-agent signing (Gordon Hayward) a mere 5 minutes into the fresh season. An unrelenting ache bug extra feasted on the physique of workers all over March, however, unfazed, the Celtics matched their salvage total (53) from the 2017-18 season with Saturday’s triumph.

Boston’s salvage projection had plummeted after losing Hayward, however the physique of workers spoke back to an zero-2 birth by winning sixteen straight. More no longer too lengthy up to now, the Celtics had been imagined to search out themselves clinging for dear lifestyles to the No. 2 seed after Kyrie Irving shut himself down in mid-March and sought surgical treatment for a sore left knee. As an different, the Celtics are making a engrossing price at stealing the No. 1 seed. And Stevens would perchance perchance even honest be prying the Coach of the Year award away from Toronto’s Dwane Casey in the formulation. Although Stevens has no desire to relate regarding the award.

“Could well well perchance care much less,” Stevens said earlier than Saturday’s game. “There are 29 other pleasant coaches, and honest to be a head coach on this league is sufficient. It’s ravishing laborious. There would possibly be not any contrivance that I’d ever take into tale myself to be in that plod.

“I judge that Dwane desires to be at the discontinue of any one’s listing, and that is the reason the style it goes. On the discontinue of the day, to me, it is more about getting of project to educate our physique of workers. But what [Casey has] done is particular. What [Indiana’s] Nate McMillan has done in particular.”

Stevens is, clearly, being modest. The Celtics lost three of 4 games after Irving couldn’t return for the 2d half of a defeat to the visiting Indiana Pacers on March eleven. That identical game, Daniel Theis tore his meniscus and Marcus Orderly tore a tendon in his thumb. Celtics followers began to wonder if Boston had a gargantuan sufficient cushion to abet its rob on the No. 2 seed, critically with the Cavaliers lurking.

But even supposing Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin, and Jabari Rooster comprise each and each omitted more than one games in March, the Celtics comprise achieved some inspired basketball no longer too lengthy up to now.

No longer only has Boston won six straight, sweeping a four-game avenue outing out west closing week, however the Celtics comprise done that whereas some of Stevens’ fundamental opponents in the Coach of the Year balloting.

Boston’s salvage shuffle has included victories over Toronto (Casey), Portland (Terry Stotts), and Utah (Quin Snyder). That Stevens has won with a skeleton crew only strengthens his case for the award.

“You’ve gotten got obtained Brad, he’s done a heck of a job,” said Casey. “Within the event you’d said that losing Gordon Hayward, who’s their free-agent All-Star, in the first [game] of the year and you gaze where they’re now and the job they’ve done. Losing Kyrie Irving, who’s one other All-Star, and gaze where they’re now. And salvage sixteen in a row after [Hayward’s injury]. That’s a heck of a job.”

Stevens’ gamers, biased as they’d perchance even be, judge their coach deserves the honor. While Stevens downplays his feature in his physique of workers’s efficiency amid accidents and suggests he simply employs a next-man-up philosophy, his gamers rave about how the coaching workers as a total locations gamers in positions to thrive.

It surely helps Stevens that his gamers comprise embraced bigger roles. And Boston’s younger skill deserves credit for stepping up no longer too lengthy up to now.

“Nobody on the opposite physique of workers [is] going to care who we obtained obtainable, so we can’t care, both,” said Terry Rozier. “We honest exit there and we honest play. We don’t even personal it. Our coaches attain a pleasant job, in spite of who we obtained, to position us in the categorical train to assemble us successful.”

That zone protection? The Raptors philosophize they had been ready for it. “We obtained what we wanted out of it, we honest obtained to assemble the photos,” said Casey after his physique of workers linked on honest Eight of 35 three-pointers (22.9 percent). Within the fourth quarter, Toronto made only 1 of 10 3s whereas turning the ball over seven cases, resulting in eleven Celtics points.

play 0:20

Jayson Tatum drives to the basket and fights thru contact for the bucket.

Without Irving, Orderly and Larkin on Saturday night, the Celtics had been forced to play Jayson Tatum at point guard at cases. The rookie said he was honest searching to expend into consideration the performs.

On the opposite discontinue of the ground, Stevens caught Tatum up high of the zone and let his size disrupt passing lanes for the Raptors. Tatum scored Thirteen of his 24 points in the 1/three quarter and helped Boston procure a mode to rob but one other game it reputedly had no industry winning.

Stevens deserves various credit for Boston’s wins. But, as that February loss showed, he’s thinking of ways to abet his physique of workers extra down the avenue even in defeat.

 

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