BOSTON, MA – If the Boston Celtics were going to stake their claim as a true threat in the Eastern Conference, they would have to beat the best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors.
Kyrie Irving saw to that, as he scored 17 of his game-high 43 points in the last 8:06 of regulation, then scoring or assisting in every basket in overtime to lead the Celtics (10-6) to a 123-116 victory over the Raptors (12-5) on Friday night at TD Garden. Irving also had 11 assists to lead the Celtics, while Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 31 points and 15 rebounds.
Toronto struck first, courtesy of a Danny Green three-pointer, then got another one from Serge Ibaka as the Raptors raced to a quick 12-5 lead. The Celtics erased the lead within two minutes, eventually taking the lead with 4:48 to go in the first. Irving scored 12 points in the first to give Boston a 30-27 lead at the end of the quarter.
Gordon Hayward made his entrance into the scoring party at the start of the second quarter, erupting for five quick points in the first two minutes to push the Celtics to a 38-29 lead. The Raptors weren’t going away, though, as Kyle Lowry led the charge late in the quarter to help push them back to a 52-51 lead. Irving had the final say, making a jumper with 2.8 seconds left to give the Celtics a 54-52 lead going into halftime.
Toronto was intent on making a statement coming out of the locker room. Leonard scored five points in the first three minutes of the second half to put the Raptors up 59-54. It wasn’t until midway through the third before Toronto was able to make actual headway, leading by as much as 10 in the quarter. Boston finished the third quarter strong, but was down 82-78 going into the final frame.
The fourth quarter became the Kyrie Irving show. Within the last eight minutes, Irving went on a personal tear, scoring 17 points. However, with 1:29 left in the quarter, Toronto’s Delon Wright buried a three to give the Raptors a 107-103 lead. With 55 seconds left, Lowry had a chance to put the game away before dishing out an errant pass right into Gordon Hayward’s hands. Jayson Tatum scored a basket, which was followed by two free throws from Hayward to tie it at 107. Leonard had a chance to end the game, but missed the jumper to send it into overtime.
The Celtics owned overtime, scoring 16 points to the Raptors’ 9. The most impressive part of that came from Irving, who scored or assisted on every Celtics basket.
Boston out-shot Toronto by nearly ten percent (52.8 to 43.3 percent), while also winning the assists and fast break points battles.
Irving, who was the center of attention during the off-season due to his impending free-agent status, showed that he wants to be one of the all-time Celtic greats on Friday. going 18-of-26 from the field. If the Celtics are going to win the East, it will be up to Irving to lead them. With the win, Boston is now 2.5 games behind the Raptors in the Atlantic Division. The Raptors, on the other hand, have lost three games in a row now after 12 of their first 13.
Boston plays the Utah Jazz on Saturday during the last game of their homestand before traveling to Charlotte on Monday. Toronto will try to end their losing streak on Saturday when they face the Chicago Bulls.