For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors swept a playoff series. Now, also for the first time in franchise history, the Raptors are gearing up for a series against the Boston Celtics.
Both teams finished off sweeps on Sunday, with Boston defeating Philadelphia and the Raptors taking down the Brooklyn Nets. But the Raptors also did so in record-breaking fashion.
With Kyle Lowry playing only nine minutes because of an injured left foot and starting guard Fred VanVleet dealing with foul trouble, the Raptors’ benched pushed through with an NBA-record 100 points to lead Toronto to a 150-122 victory.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the 100 bench points are the most by any team in a regular-season or playoff game since starters were tracked beginning in the 1970-71 season. The Raptors’ 150 points also marked the most they had ever scored in a playoff game.
But setting new records wasn’t what mattered to Toronto postgame. It was all about the victory itself.
“It’s cool, I guess. My main focus is winning,” said Raptors guard Norman Powell, who led the team with 29 points off the bench. “Don’t matter how we do it, by 30 or a point. I just care about winning. It’s a cool little record to have. But I’m not going to harp on it or think about it. On to the next one.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Powell and Serge Ibaka, who had 27 points and 15 rebounds in 19:50, became the second pair of teammates since 1970-71 to have 25 points each off the bench in a playoff game, joining Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, who did so last season for the LA Clippers.
Ibaka also became the first player in playoff history to have at least 25 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game while playing less than 20 minutes.
Toronto went 1-3 this season against the Celtics but played them at three different points throughout the year — on the second night of the season, twice in a four-day span starting Christmas Day, and once again in the bubble, which was a 22-point Boston victory. It’s also the only loss Toronto has had since the season restarted.
“They’re a great team and they are playing some of the best basketball right now,” Ibaka said. “We have confidence against them, and we know it’s not gonna be easy. We have to come to play our best basketball against them.”
Ibaka said he has watched one Celtics game in the bubble and said they are flying somewhat under the radar.
“They don’t get a lot of talk but they’re a great team,” Ibaka said. “When anybody comes in, they play hard, they play as a team, they have a good bench. We need to come in to play basketball, man.”
The NBA said the series will start Thursday, giving both teams some rest ahead of the matchup — something Raptors coach Nick Nurse said he’s looking forward to.
“Well we certainly could use a little bit of rest, these games are coming really quick,” Nurse said. “That was a fast first round for both teams really. A lot faster than normal. That first round usually goes so slow.”
The rest will also give Toronto a chance to possibly have Lowry ready for Game 1. Nurse said Lowry was getting an MRI done on the arch of his left foot following Sunday’s game.
Nurse has been using a shorter rotation in the playoffs and played his starters along with Ibaka and Powell the most, typically rotating in a separate eighth man each night — whether that was Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas or Terence Davis.
Keeping those guys fresh is another reason the bench was able to go off for 100 points against Brooklyn, but managing minutes is something Nurse will have to look at throughout the rest of the playoffs.
“I’m running a pretty short rotation here, as you know,” Nurse said. “Those guys, we all know, from Chris to Rondae to Matt and Terence, obviously Serge and Norm … the seven guys I’m playing are wanting to play more. It’s hard to kind of manage it all sometimes.”
While Toronto is hopeful it will have Lowry for the series, Boston will be without forward Gordon Hayward as he rehabs his ankle sprain. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Sunday that Hayward returned to Boston to begin his rehab.