Defense key as Toronto Raptors overcome Boston Celtics

The Toronto Raptors finally figured out how to deal with Boston Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving. At least for a night at least, but that’s all that matters, for now…

Irving averaged 30.3 points and 11.7 assists in three games against the Raptors heading into Tuesday night, but Toronto limited him to just seven points. Including none in the second half, in a dominant 118-95 victory.

Head coach Nick Nurse had a plan to “throw some different bodies” at Irving all night with Lin and fellow guard Danny Green taking the lead on a help defence. Constant pressure and clogged lanes limited Irving’s options and forced him to make rushed passes.

“Just showing bodies,” said Lin. “Me and Danny maybe we’re the ones up front but behind us we had a lot of guys talking, we had a lot of guys showing length, we had lanes that were closed before he even had a chance to attack them.

“That’s just what we tried to do: show bodies.”

Successfully defending Irving was a welcome change of pace for the Raptors.

Irving had a season-high 43 points on Nov. 16 to lead the Celtics to a 123-116 overtime win against Toronto in Boston. In their next meeting on Jan. 16, the Raptors defence tightened around Irving so he responded by dishing out a career-high 18 assists and still led the Celtics with 27 points in a 117-108 victory, again in Boston.

“He can make plays against the very best of the best on defence and he’s got a great feel for the game on that end,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens before Tuesday’s game. “I just think that people have talked about his scoring, and rightfully so, but the last time we played he had 18 assists because of how he was being guarded. He’s just a special, special player.”

He’s been especially lethal in late minutes, scoring or assisting on 25 of Boston’s 28 made shots in the fourth quarter and overtime in the Celtics wins on Nov. 16 and Jan. 16.

But on Tuesday, he didn’t even play in the fourth quar,ter with the game already well out of reach. In the second half he was scoreless with two assists and two rebounds in 9:23 of work.

According to Green, some of the Raptors’ success against Irving came down to luck.

“Just hoping he misses shots,” said Green. “That’s pretty much it. He’s pretty crafty and shifty so I got in a lot of foul trouble but it’s challenge to touch him as much as possible, try to pick him up full court and get the ball out of his hands, but that’s only going to last so long.

“Our bigs did a great job of helping with the pick-and-rolls and everyone rotating. That was key.”

Green wasn’t sure if the Raptors could use that defensive scheme to contain Irving again, especially in a playoff series.

“I wouldn’t know and if we were, I wouldn’t tell you,” said Green.

Next up for the Raptors is the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday evening.



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