Raptors make statement against Celtics, but remain unsatisfied
Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star / Getty

TORONTO - Much like when they dismantled the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers on national television last month - without Kyle Lowry - the Raptors sent a clear message to the rest of the East Tuesday night in Toronto, eviscerating the first-place Boston Celtics in a 111-91 laugher.

Just don't tell that to Dwane Casey's Raptors, whose collective demeanor in the aftermath of what seems to be a plethora of blowouts remains calm and stoic.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Toronto's dominance so far this season is how thoroughly unimpressed the team has been by their own performance.

Every team talks about taking the season one game at a time - about not getting too high or too low and not buying into the hype of potential "statement games" - but the Raptors have walked the walk, with their eyes on a much bigger prize than early-February can provide.

"We haven't done anything," All-Star point guard Lowry told theScore after Tuesday's beatdown of the Celtics.

"We've been in situations where we've been a top-four seed last however many years ... and got swept one year. We've just got to make sure we understand that the product isn't finished until you get to the playoffs, and you've still got work to do then. We've got experienced guys in here and an experienced coaching staff that's been through it before, so we know and understand that the journey is far from over. We've got to continue to get better. You don't want to peak now. You want to peak when you need to peak."

Plenty of ink has already been spilled about why this year's version of the Raptors is better equipped to follow up their regular-season success with postseason glory. More ball movement and off-ball movement have led to a more creative, diversified offense that's tougher to stop than in years past, when simply trapping Lowry and All-Star backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan did the trick. DeRozan, himself, has become a more willing playmaker and a legitimate threat from 3-point territory. A more switch-happy defense ranks third overall on that end of the court - "I haven't seen much of that all year," Al Horford said of the Raptors' defensive scheme Tuesday night, which effectively limited Horford's offensive creation.

And, of course, Toronto's young reserves have taken the league by storm.

On Tuesday, the Raptors' bench poured in 59 points, and an all-bench lineup of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl blew the game open during a second quarter stretch in which All-Star guard Kyrie Irving was on the court for Boston.

That kind of domination has become commonplace for the Raptors' second unit and has been a key factor in limiting the minutes of Lowry and DeRozan.

Courtesy: Getty Images

"I think a lot of teams, when their bench goes in, they're going in just to sustain, or buy their starter's minutes," DeRozan said. "Our second unit comes in with a lot of energy to win games for us."

Irving left the Air Canada Centre as impressed as DeRozan was.

"They played like an experienced, veteran group. They're the best second unit in the league and they have confidence in themselves," Irving said. "Delon and VanVleet play well off one another and Siakam is just running rim to rim every single time, and Poeltl is protecting the rim. Then you fill in Kyle and DeMar with that group and they play at an unbelievable pace."

Much has been made of the Celtics' enviable stash of young talent, but the Raptors are one of the few teams who can arguably match it. Of Toronto's nine most used players this season, five of them - VanVleet, Wright, Siakam, Poeltl, and rookie starter O.G. Anunoby - were selected between picks No. 9 and No. 23 in the last three drafts, or in VanVleet's case, went undrafted.

"You clearly have a culture of player development and improvement here," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of the Raptors' youth movement before Tuesday's matchup. "There's not many groups I enjoy watching more than (the Raptors') second group when they're all on the floor together."

It's safe to assume Stevens derived no such joy from that group on this day.

The Raptors walked off the court after their latest blowout win just one game back of Boston for the East's No. 1 seed, with the league's No. 4 offense, No. 3 defense, best home record (22-4), and the same point differential (+7.8) as the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

And yet, whether due to their past playoff disappointments, Casey's insistence on steady professionalism, or a combination of both, they remain completely unfazed.

"They're important games, but they're still two games. You can't get caught up in it," Casey said when asked to reflect on Toronto's two recent wins over Boston and Cleveland. "Thursday night (against the 11th-place New York Knicks) is just as important to me. That's the main focus we've got to keep - the business-like approach.

"I know it's boring, it's not exciting, but it's how you win in this league."

And the Raptors have certainly won, to the tune of a fourth-ranked .698 winning percentage that has them closer to the first-place Warriors than the fifth-place San Antonio Spurs.

Between their revamped attack, their two All-Stars, and a devastating, young group of reserves built from within, few teams seem capable of slowing down Casey's boring Raptors right now, whether they buy into their own hype or not - just ask the Celtics.

Raptors make statement against Celtics, but remain unsatisfied
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