TORONTO — The Celtics were once again tasked with crafting a fourth-quarter comeback Saturday against the Raptors, but their options were dwindling by the minute.
Forward Jayson Tatum sat out to rest his left wrist, and by halftime, guard Marcus Smart [ankle] and Robert Williams [knee] also were sidelined. Then guard Derrick White left the game after taking a shot to the knee.
But this team has stressed all season that it will not flinch when its depth is tested. So there was Payton Pritchard, coming off the bench to drill four fourth-quarter 3-pointers. There was Grant Williams, pouring in a career-high 25 points. There was forward Al Horford, who will turn 37 in June and seemed to give all he had in Thursday night’s win over the Warriors, giving even more during the final, chaotic seconds of this game.
When it was over, Boston had secured a 106-104 win, its ninth in a row.
“We got a good team,” said forward Jaylen Brown. “I think everybody knows that it’s no secret. No matter who’s out on the floor, we have three, four guys out or however many, I’m looking at it as, ‘We’ve got enough to win this game.’ ”
This team’s December slump in which it lost five of six games appears to be a blip. With the season well past the midway point, the Celtics (35-12) continue to look very much like obvious title favorites. It does not appear that anything will slow this team down.
When Smart crumpled to the ground late in the second quarter and had to be helped off the court after spraining his right ankle, it appeared perhaps a new, significant hurdle had risen. But coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game that X-rays were negative and Smart would be considered day-to-day. Rob Williams’s exit after a collision with Brown was just precautionary, and White was fine, too.
There was plenty of reason to believe the Celtics could be due for a letdown following their grueling, emotional overtime win against the Warriors. But after a sluggish start Saturday, they locked in quickly.
“We can’t ever settle for less or take a night off,” Grant Williams said. “That’s not who we are. That’s not how we’re built.”
Williams came off the bench Saturday and mixed in timely 3-point shooting with determined drives to the basket when the Raptors scurried toward him on close-outs. In his second game back after missing three with an adductor strain, Brown had 27 points to lead the Celtics, and he did not sit after halftime.
Boston made 10 of 17 3-pointers during the second half, including a scorching stretch at the start of the third quarter in which it made 6 of 7 to flip a four-point deficit into a 101-93 lead. Pritchard, who appears to have replaced Sam Hauser in the regular rotation, connected on three of them.
“I’m happy for Payton,” Mazzulla said. “This league can be unforgiving at times. You have to be strong-minded, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to be patient. Payton’s all of those things. I’ve always told him: Whenever it’s his time, I trust him completely.”
The Raptors surged back, however, as Gary Trent’s second 3-pointer in a 10-2 run tied the score at 103. Then Pritchard calmly drilled another deep 3-pointer with 1:30 left that made it 106-103.
After Toronto’s Pascal Siakam hit one of two free throws to pull his team within 2, Trent had an excellent chance to tie the game but missed an open layup with 21.5 seconds remaining. Horford grabbed the rebound and found Pritchard, who dribbled upcourt in an unsettled situation.
Mazzulla said afterward he should have used a timeout, but before he did, Pritchard’s pass was picked off by Trent. After a Toronto timeout, Siakam went directly toward the rim before having his attempt gobbled up by Horford, leading to a jump ball.
“Horford saved my [butt],” Mazzulla quipped.
The Raptors called a timeout intending to challenge the call, believing that Horford had fouled Siakam. But they were told the play was not eligible to be challenged, and they lost their final timeout.
Horford and Siakam’s jump resulted in a loose ball that Horford and Scottie Barnes grabbed simultaneously. Horford easily won the second jump, and the Celtics called timeout with 3.8 seconds left.
That choice nearly backfired when Williams was called for an offensive foul on the inbounds pass, but the Raptors were out of timeouts due to their challenge gaffe, forcing them to inbound the ball about 80 feet from their hoop. Siakam lost his footing as he crossed midcourt and Horford came in and ripped the ball away.
“The end of the game is winning time,” Horford said. “You have to make something happen and Joe and I talked on the sideline and he just talked about like, ‘Hey, go win this game for us.’ I just had to find a way to make plays any way that I could.”
Siakam had 29 points to lead Toronto, which lost despite shooting 53.5 percent from the field. The Raptors were without star guard Fred VanVleet, and forward OG Anunoby left the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return.