ORLANDO • The Boston Celtics blew out the Toronto Raptors 111-89 on Monday, pushing the reigning National Basketball Association champions to the brink of elimination.
The Celtics, who had lost two straight as the Raptors clawed their way back into the best-of-seven series, now have a 3-2 lead and can clinch a place in the Eastern Conference Finals with a win today.
They dominated defensively to hold the Raptors to 20 per cent shooting in the first quarter, emerging from the opening period with a 25-11 lead.
Toronto never recovered from the early body blow after enduring one of their worst scoring play-off quarters in franchise history, with Boston up 18-5 after 8 1/2 minutes.
The Celtics’ 37 points in the second quarter were two more than the Raptors managed in all of the first half, trailing 62-35 at half-time.
Despite a noticeable uptick of energy to start the third, there was too much ground to make up.
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 18 points, while reserve guard Norman Powell added 16, but the rest of the team had a stinker, leading to a spat between Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
On the bust-up, VanVleet said: “Kyle had his moment with the ref. Serge had his moment with Kyle. But we moved on, we moved past it. It happens. We’re brothers.
“It’s a lot at stake. There’s a lot on the line. Those type of things are going to happen. But it wasn’t as bad as it looked… That’s an everyday thing on our team. Guys just being honest. We have a lot of passionate guys. It’s just part of the process.”
Lowry did not expand on the clash, but admitted they were not their usual selves at Disney World, though he insisted the “bubble” was not playing on their minds.
“Nope. We just didn’t play well enough,” the guard, who only had 10 points, said. “We weren’t as assertive as we should have been.”
Boston coach Brad Stevens kept his starters in for much of the fourth quarter, comfortably keeping the lead in double digits. But the Celtics, who were led by a game-high 27 points from Jaylen Brown, believe Toronto will come out fighting for their lives today.
“The job isn’t done,” said the forward, who also pulled down six rebounds and made three of their five steals.
“We’ve got to come out and play with the same intensity.”
In the West, Paul George scored 32 points and the Los Angeles Clippers turned up the heat defensively in a 113-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets for a 2-1 lead in their semi-final series.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS