Game No. 15: Celtics 96, Raptors 73

Yes, the Celtics are old and slow and are barely a shadow of their former selves (more on them later), but you had to know even in this state, they weren’t going to lose their sixth straight game (and fall to 4-9) with a home loss to the 4-10 Raptors. Not going to happen.

For all intents and purposes, this game was over when the Raptors went on an 0-for-10 stretch during the first quarter and went down 21-7 early. Though the game got somewhat close in the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter, Toronto never got within five again after digging that early hole.

Now here are my thoughts on the game:

1- As frustrated as I’ve been with DeMar DeRozan for the last couple of weeks, I can’t really knock his hustle tonight. DeMar was consistently attacking the basket and trying to draw contact when he wasn’t driving, but between just not getting calls and some careless turnovers, DeRozan couldn’t put it together. There were at least three or four occasions when I thought DeMar deserved a couple of free throws, but in the end, he finished with just three attempts from the line. There were also a couple of times DeMar looked like he was starting a strong move towards the basket before ultimately fumbling the ball and turning it over. It may not sound like much, but between the non-calls and the turnovers, DeRozan probably lost six-to-eight potential points.

2- I liked what I saw from Ed Davis tonight, though his missed “gimmies” from a few feet away continue to frustrate me. Davis seemed much more active than he has been in a while. He was rebounding, working to get good offensive positioning in the post and seemed to have some good chemistry with Amir Johnson, as the pair made a few surprising, beautiful passes to each other. In the end, Ed finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes, but I’ll always think about what his numbers might look like this season if he could convert seemingly easy buckets. If he can figure it out offensively (he’s still way too young and inexperienced in the NBA to be declared offensively inept forever), he’s a walking double-double.

3- The other positive for the Raptors was the play of Gary Forbes off of the bench. What Forbes showed us in Boston is basically what I was hoping from him when the Raptors signed him. I don’t expect him to score an outstanding 18 points on just six shots in 19 minutes (as he did tonight) on a consistent basis, but I do think he can be a good scorer and the type of player who can alter momentum in a ball game. His play is obviously starting to win over Dwane Casey as well, as Forbes has logged 49 minutes over the last three games after playing just 45 minutes in the first 12 games combined.

4- That will about end the positives from this game. Now on to the much more visible negatives…Everyone wanted Rasual Butler yanked from the starting lineup, and with Linas Kleiza still rusty and Gary Forbes filling in as a back-up point guard, the next option at the three was James Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson didn’t exactly take the starting job and run with it in his first start of the season. James started the game with seven minutes of goose-egg basketball, as in he put up zero points (on zero-for-three shooting) to go along with the zeros in every other category (expect personal fouls). He quickly found his place on the bench, and finished with four points, two rebounds, a steal and three turnovers in 25 minutes.

5- Now about those aging Celtics. I picked the Knicks to win the Atlantic Division this season, but I still expected the Celtics to be a top-four or top-five team in the East that could win a playoff series or two if they got the right bounces. After watching them on a few occasions through three weeks of the season, I’ve already soured on them. They’re simply too old and slow to compete with the NBA’s elite, but the scary thing for Celts fans is that they almost look too slow to even compete with mediocre teams. From what I’ve seen, I can’t see Boston finishing anywhere near the top of the Eastern Conference, unless they end up winning the Atlantic with a barely above .500 record. I still think they’ll make the playoffs (not if Rondo is out for an extended period of time after Linas Kleiza’s flagrant foul), but they’re looking at a battle for sixth to eighth in the East instead of fighting for first to fourth.

6- I don’t believe for one second that Dwane Casey is playing to lose or that Bryan Colangelo enjoys the early losing that goes with the process of rebuilding. I think Casey is honestly trying to get every ounce of effort and output he can from this severely over-matched bunch, and for the most part, I think he’s doing a pretty good job. But you can’t tell me that giving Rasual Butler and Aaron Gray a combined 34 minutes is in an attempt to beat the Boston Celtics. Are they necessarily “trying” to lose? No. Would they ever admit that they are creatively trying to tank? Hell no. But come on, trotting out Butler, Jamaal Magloire and Anthony Carter for anything more than a minute each in 2012 is a form of tanking, whether admitted or not.

And for all of those Raptors fans who have fully embraced “Tank-Nation,” you have to be thrilled tonight. With the Wizards stunning the Thunder, the Raps are now just one-and-a-half games ahead of the last place Wiz, with games against the Blazers, Clippers, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets coming up in the next nine days. In all likelihood, this will get ugly in a hurry, but could get oh, so sweet when the ping pong balls drop in May.

Raptors Player of the Game: Gary Forbes – 19 Min, 18 Pts, 5-6 FG, 1-1 3Pt, 7-8 FT, 1 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

Celtics Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo – 28 Min, 21 Pts, 7-8 FG, 7-11 FT, 3 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 TO