Late in the third quarter of Toronto’s frustrating loss to Celtics on Sunday, Boston forward Robert Williams threw down a windmill dunk after a Raptors turnover.
The demoralizing play summed up a disheartening afternoon for a Raptors team that had been one of the hottest squads in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.
Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart had 21 points apiece as the Celtics clobbered the NBA defending champions 112-94 in Game 1 of best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.
Kyle Lowry, who’d been a question mark after suffering a sprained left ankle in Game 4 a week ago against Brooklyn, had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Serge Ibaka had 15 points and nine boards off the bench, Pascal Siakam had 13 points, OG Anunoby had 12, Fred VanVleet added 11 points, and Norm Powell finished with 10.
The Raptors shot just 10-for-40 from three-point range, while the Celtics made 17 of their 39 attempts.
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A sluggish start was almost expected coming off an emotional week that saw NBA teams considering ending the season over racial injustice issues.
But the Raptors, who’ve been rolling, winning 32 of their past 37 games, were slow and disorganized on the defensive end against a team that has beaten them in four of five meetings this season. They weren’t much better on the offensive end, particularly in a first half that saw Toronto trail by as many as 19 points.
The Celtics had stretched their lead to 22 in the third, and a 15-foot fadeaway shot to end the quarter put Boston up 88-73 with one quarter left.
Teams fresh off sweeps
A three-point play by Lowry to start the fourth sliced the difference to 12, but that was as close as they would come, and when Smart scored on a three in front of Boston’s bench, the long bomb had the Celtics up by 24 points with just under five minutes to play.
Game 2 is Tuesday.
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Both teams swept their opening-round series. The Raptors beat Brooklyn in four games for their first sweep in franchise history, while Boston cruised by Philadelphia.
The Celtics had routed Toronto 122-100 on Aug. 8, the only other loss for the Raptors at Disney World.
Early in the game, Boston’s big man Daniel Theis blew by Marc Gasol like the Spaniard’s feet were glued to the floor. The moment exemplified a Raptors defence that was a step behind from the opening whistle. The Celtics led by as many as 19 in the first quarter before Powell’s three-pointer with 2.7 left in the frame cut Boston’s lead to 39-23 to start the second.
Ibaka’s layup capped a 7-0 run to start the second and had the Raptors within nine points. But Toronto’s woeful shooting continued — the Raptors were just 1-for-12 from long distance in the second quarter and 5-for-23 from the field. Boston built its lead back up to 17 and took a 56-42 advantage into the halftime break.
3-day league shutdown
The game marked a second restart of sorts for both teams. The shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Wisconsin, ignited protests and had Powell and VanVleet raise the possibility on Tuesday of a boycott.
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks did just that, refusing to take the court for their game against Orlando. Amplifying messages of racial and social injustice was a major theme of the restart, and frustrated players across the league felt that they weren’t doing enough.
The Bucks’ walkout led to a shutdown of the league for three days and similar strikes among several pro sports leagues, including the WNBA and NHL.
The historic events created an emotional week, coach Nick Nurse said before tipoff.
“There was a moment of: are we going to play or not going to, so it was a time to shut the engine off and take the keys out and kind of decide what’s happening and then there was a long moment of OK, we are going to play, then when?” Nurse said. “It’s not awfully long, a week, right? That could happen in a playoffs anyway, but just the circumstances of that week made it feel like about three.”
The afternoon began with a moment of silence for 18-year NBA veteran Cliff Robinson, coach Lute Olson, and actor Chadwick Boseman, who all died this week.
Both teams knelt with arms linked for the U.S. and Canadian anthems.