- There was a ton of hype going into Friday's matchup between Boston and Toronto and the game lived up to it, setting a high bar for the rest of the season.
While the Eastern Conference effectively remains the NBA’s junior circuit until further notice, one pleasant ripple effect of LeBron James’s foray to the other coast is that, for the first time in who-knows-how-long (OK, approximately eight seasons), this is a race that feels wide open. There are a handful of teams with some degree of real opportunity to win the East. Two of them played Friday night as the Celtics and Raptors met in Toronto. The Raptors pulled away late, and did so convincingly for a 113–101 final score. The game was closer than that, and it became increasingly clear as the night went on that this is a matchup worth caring about.
After watching the Celtics handle the upstart 76ers earlier in the week, there was already some sense of how Boston would look against good competition. Toronto seized the opportunity to make a statement at home, dotted by Kyle Lowry taking a charge with two minutes left in the game, then nailing a deep three on the following play that effectively iced the game. Kawhi Leonard got better as the night went on, Serge Ibaka looked downright sprightly and all of it came against a Boston team that arguably boasts more pound-for-pound talent than anyone in the league, save for Golden State. Neither team was perfect, but the pace of play ramped up quickly and produced an enthralling, up-and-down adventure.
This is the fourth day of the season and no time to anoint anyone, but it’s encouraging to see two teams that have been widely pegged as potential conference finalists give us compelling hoops this early on. These were the two best regular-season teams in the East last year, and both of them appear to have gotten better in the offseason and that’s good news for the state of the league. The up-and-down nature of the game was hypnotic for stretches, both teams replete with versatile, skilled talent that would play anywhere in the league. On first pass, the game’s frenetic energy made it difficult to process in real time, but there was no mistaking the sheer amount of talent on the floor, or the quality of the game. It was plenty to whet the palate.
Between Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier dueling with Lowry and Fred Van Vleet, Al Horford jostling with Ibaka or Leonard enveloping Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward at various points in the night, there’s just a whole lot to sink your teeth into. These are two teams notorious for throwing wave after wave at opponents. Pit them head-to-head and, well, there’s probably a better aquatic metaphor for how fun this game was that I’m just missing here. Cheers to quality basketball and what would be a fascinating seven-game set come May. Of course, let’s not jinx it.