Three takeaways from Boston dominating Toronto in Game 5


In a series between evenly matched teams, this game felt like an outlier. Boston cranked up their defensive level, its starters played their best game of the postseason, and Toronto came nowhere close to matching it.

The result was a blowout where the Celtics were up by 14 after one quarter, 27 at the half, and cruised in for a 111-89 win. The Celtics now lead the series 3-2 and can try to eliminate the defending champions in Game 6 on Wednesday night.

Here are three takeaways from Boston’s Game 5 rout:

1) Boston’s defense smothered Toronto all game long

“I think the numbers bear out it’s two really good defensive teams, and it’s physical and makes it hard to score,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game. “I don’t know if the offenses will improve or not.”

That was Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse pregame, and he was half right — Boston was a really good defensive team on Monday and the Raptors offense did not improve.

Toronto shot 38.8% as a team for the game and had an offensive rating of just 92.7 (far less than a point per possession). Toronto shot just 13-of-31 (41.9%) in the restricted area, and was 12-of-40 (30%) from three — they shot well from the midrange, but that’s a tough way to beat Boston.

Brad Stevens put Marcus Smart on Kyle Lowry and the Celtics switched every pick-and-roll with Lowry, but that usually meant another strong defender (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, even Daniel Theis) was on him, and the Celtics did a great job switching back or jump-switching later to get back to the matchup they wanted. It worked brilliantly, and Lowry was just 3-of-8 shooting for the game and had 10 points.

Fred VanVleet was funneled into waiting defenders in the lane and couldn’t hit shots or find passing lanes. It was too late in the game when Toronto started running P&R sets for Pascal Siakam. But whatever Toronto went to, Boston smothered it. It threw the Raptors off their game.

Toronto needs to find those shots by Game 6.

2) Jaylen Brown bounces back; Celtics starters dominate

After a rough night in Game 4, Jaylen Brown bounced back and was the best player on the floor in Game 5 — 27 points, strong play defensively, and the dunk of the series.

Brown wasn’t alone, all the Celtics starters played well. Kemba Walker had 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting, Jayson Tatum had 18 points and his pick-and-roll decision making is impeccable, Theis had 15, and Smart had a dozen. Off the bench, Brad Wanamaker had 15 and that was all the Celtics bench scoring before the last shot of the game (a Grant Williams three).

Celtics fans can complain about bench play if they want, but if the starters play like this it doesn’t matter.

3) Toronto needs to get Siakam in more pick-and-rolls

First, the Raptors can flush this game… although they may want to watch the first quarter, see the hunger Boston came out with, and see if they can match it on Wednesday.

A couple of things became clear in Game 5. More Serge Ibaka and less Marc Gasol is in order, the matchups are just better for him. The other is Siakam has to be part of more pick-and-rolls, it was the only thing that showed promise offensively. Please don’t take my word for it.

Toronto played well against Philadelphia a year ago when facing elimination, but still ultimately needed Kawhi Leonard and four bounces on the rim to advance. This year the rest of the players have to step up, or the Raptors defense of their title ends on Wednesday night.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return


Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.