After a slow start defensively in the NBA bubble, Jayson Tatum, right, and the Boston Celtics have played much better in their last two games, including a 122-100 win over Toronto on Friday. Ashley Landis/Pool Photo via Associated Press

After hearing about how poorly the Celtics were guarding people, Jayson Tatum saw the statistical evidence Friday.

“I saw something – we were like the last team or one of the last teams in defense in the bubble, and that’s just kind of unacceptable for us with the elite defenders we have on this team and just collectively, our identity, who we want to be,” he said. “We have to take more pride in that. I think today was a good step in the right direction, but we’ve got to continue to get back to who we are and guard how we normally do.”

Two games don’t even constitute a trend in this case, but the Celtics have at least put two strong defensive performances together, following up Wednesday’s romp over the Nets with Friday night’s 122-100 win over Toronto.

This time the Celtics beat the hottest team in the Orlando bubble. The Raptors, who had won their first three games of the seeding round, including a tough opening night win over the Lakers, simply couldn’t find the right spots on either end Friday night.

The Celtics pressured them from the outset, and ultimately limited Toronto to 42.7% shooting, including 26.3% (10-for-38) from 3-point range.

“I thought Wednesday we really guarded, for the most part, the way we wanted to start guarding and I thought that continued today,” said Celtics Coach Brad Stevens. “We have to be locked in, we have to be dialed in, we have to be good defensively to have a chance to be a good team. I don’t think it’s a surprise that your offense follows that when you are dialed in like that.”

At one stage midway through the second quarter, for instance, the Celtics had taken an 18-point lead with Daniel Theis the only player in double figures with 11 points. The ball continued to hop from side to side, enabling the big guns to put this one away in the third quarter. Tatum scored 10 of his 18 points, Kemba Walker 14 of his 17, and Jaylen Brown nine of his 20 in that 39-point third.

They moved the ball that well against arguably the toughest defensive unit in the league, with their best defensive performance since moving into the bubble dictating the pace.

“I think that’s who we should be. We’ve got so many talented guys on this team, especially on the offensive end,” said Tatum. “When we move the ball like that I think we’re really, really hard to guard. Obviously Toronto is a really good defensive team. We know if we see them again they’re going to obviously play better. Just moving the ball like we did, I think that makes us harder to guard.”

It’s an afterthought now, but Toronto would have clinched the second seed with a win Friday night.

THEIS MAY BE the perfect fit for how the Celtics play: He opened scoring by splitting the lane off a Gordon Hayward feed for a three-point play, and eventually drifted out to the right corner for a pair of 3-pointers. With all of the attention given to the likes of Tatum, Brown and Walker, the last player opponents are going to consider is the Celtics center. But from his cutting and screening to an improved ability to hit open shots, Theis has become the perfect complement.

“I think it’s important he’s a threat. He balances it really well. He doesn’t chuck all night,” Stevens said of Theis’ shooting. “He picks and chooses the right ones he is more than capable of making it, but he also knows when to flip it to a guard that is behind him and the guard ends up getting the shot because no one is on Theis. He just has a nice feel for that. He has figured out how to get the most out of everyone around him, and I think that’s been his greatest strength all year.”

AFTER ALL THE wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed the Celtics’ loss to Miami, it’s almost as if nothing happened. Though they have a less than remote chance of catching Toronto, which holds a 3 1/2-game lead on the Celtics for the Eastern Conference’s second seed, they also have a 2 1/2-game lead on the fourth-seeded Heat. Looming large is a game Saturday between the Heat and Suns, which has won its first four games in the bubble.

DON’T LOOK NOW, but Rob Williams has now had an overpowering impact in consecutive games in the defensive end: His appearance during Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn was all-enveloping, including a career-high 18-point performance. But Friday night, against a much better team, the young center showed that yes, maybe he has turned a corner.

There was his ability to stay on his feet during a post-up attempt by Serge Ibaka in the second quarter. Not only did Williams hold his ground and force the Raptors’ big man to pass – he then deflected the pass, and was rewarded with a dunk down the other end. Further rewards, should he continue playing this way, may include playoff minutes.

“I thought he did a really good job. Even in the ones they made, when Robert was in pick and roll, he kept in front, used his length, and challenged,” said Stevens. “If he does that, that’s great. Very active, rebounded well, he was a threat at the rim again. He did a good job.”

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