The game plan from Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was simple in Game 5 of their NBA eastern conference against the Toronto Raptors: Start things off with an increased effort on defence to set an immediate tone.
The Celtics did exactly as he asked and put the reigning NBA champions on the ropes as they rolled to a 111-89 victory.
Boston leads the series 3-2 and can earn a trip to the east’s finals on Wednesday.
“We were playing with great purpose,” Stevens said.
“You could feel that from the get-go.”
Jaylen Brown scored 27 points while Kemba Walker added 21 for the Celtics, whose starters outscored Toronto’s by a whopping 93-45.
“The job’s not finished yet,” Brown said.
“We’ve still got a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Fred VanVleet top scored with 18 points for Toronto, who trailed by as many as 30 on Monday.
Here’s what Toronto got out of their first 18 possessions: five points on 2-for-15 shooting, a stretch that included everything from missed open lay-ups to air-balled contested jumpers, along with five turnovers in the opening nine minutes.
“I know it sounds crazy .. but I thought our offence was awesome for like the first eight minutes,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
“I thought it was awesome. I don’t think those shots could have been more open.”
Boston led 25-11 after the first quarter and blew that out to 62-35 at halftime.
Toronto had the better of the scoring in the second half, 54-49, but it was nowhere near good enough as Boston cruised to victory.
In the western conference, a fourth-quarter rally gave the Los Angeles Clippers a 113-107 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Paul George scored 32 points while Kawhi Leonard added 23, along with a big late block to deny Jamal Murray a dunk, as the dynamic duo guided the Clippers to a 2-1 lead in their semi-final series.
The Nuggets led 97-90 with 8 minutes 30 seconds to play before a 14-4 run gave the Clippers the edge, which they never relinquished.
Centre Nikola Jokic had 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for Denver despite a sore right wrist that had him questionable before the game.