Game No. 23: Celtics 100, Raptors 64

The Raptors continued their recent trend of both being unable to play a good first quarter and being unable to give the Celtics a good, competitive game.

How bad was it tonight in Boston? Well the Raptors nearly had as many turnovers (five) as field goals (six) in the first quarter, Aaron Gray was one of only two Raptors with more than three points midway through the second quarter and the first half came to an end with a Kevin Garnett three-pointer.

By that time, the second half wasn’t even worth watching.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I mentioned another poor first quarter above. The Raps have now gone 11 straight games without winning a first quarter, and in nine of those games, they’ve been down by at least eight points after the opening frame. With a team as low on talent as the Raptors, a lot of times their only hope is going to be if they can use their youth to jump on teams early and try to hang on. Digging themselves double-digit holes before they can even blink is like booking themselves a handicap wrestling match.

2- Another game, another starting lineup. Tonight it was Calderon, DeRozan, James Johnson, Davis and Gray. Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy in mixing up his starting unit according to different matchups, and I don’t blame him. With how inconsistent the young Raptors have been and with the injuries to key players they’ve dealt with, I don’t mind seeing different players getting a look in the starting five and off of the bench. If they were a contending team or a fully healthy team with playoff aspirations, I’d like to see some lineup and rotation consistency from game to game, but that isn’t the case. This season, as I’ve stated numerous times, is about finding out what you have with a lot of these guys.

3- One of the differences in tonight’s lineup was the absence of Linas Kleiza, who was held out of action with a sore right knee. According to the Raptors’ Media Relations twitter account, the Raptors are “monitoring minutes and giving rest on a back-to-back.” This seems fair and legitimate considering that Kleiza only recently returned from microfracture surgery on that same knee, but I can’t help but wonder if Kleiza was held out because of a combination of the knee and playing the Celtics for the first time since taking out their best player on a non-basketball play.

4- I have no problem admitting that the team I root for is incredibly low in the talent department and was flat out out-worked by a much better Celtics team on Wednesday night. Having said that, I don’t think it’s my hometown bias, but wow, was the officiating ever slanted in this ball game? On the surface, you could look at the fact that the Celtics only had 12 free throw attempts and call me crazy. But Boston’s lack of trips to the line had more to do with the Raptors’ careless defensive mentality than pro-Raptors officiating. What I’m talking about is how many times a Raptors player (usually DeMar DeRozan or Jerryd Bayless) was practically mugged on the way to the basket without a whistle. Though perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as the Raps shot an embarrassing eight-of-18 from the charity stripe.

5- It’s incredibly hard to find even the faintest silver lining after a game like this, but I did want to mention Ed Davis. After finally putting up a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday night against the Hawks, Davis followed up with another double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds against the Celtics. I realize that Davis’ two best statistical performances of the season have come in blowouts and would obviously like to see him put up these kinds of numbers in tight games, but it’s still a good start. You’ll remember that last season, Davis really got on a roll in the latter half of the year and finished with six double-doubles in his last 10 games. I’m hoping that the last two games serve as a springboard to the same type of streak from here on out.

6- If there is an ugly trend that has sneaked into the last two games, it’s the return of the Raptors’ ugly defence of years past. Perhaps it’s just a two-game blip on the radar, perhaps it’s the result of the Hawks and Celtics being tough matchups for the young Raps, perhaps it was just due after looking like a good defensive team through the first third of the season, but the Raptors have been downright awful on the defensive end this week. The Hawks and Celtics combined to shoot 51.6 per cent (80-of-155) from the field, 45.2 per cent from three (19-of-42) and scored 100 points each after the Raptors allowed just two teams to score 100 points through four quarters in their first 21 games. No one could have expected the Raptors to look as good as they did defensively for the first month of the season and these last two games looked eerily similar to the 2010-2011 Raptors team that was historically bad on the defensive end, so this could be the beginning of the end for a defence that often looked too good to be true.

Needless to say, I’ll be very interested in watching how the team’s defence responds and performs over the next few games.

***

You know it was a tough night at the office when all 12 Raptors players, even Anthony Carter and Solomon Alabi who only played five minutes each, were a minus-six or worse in plus/minus.

Raptors Player of the Game: Aaron Gray – 26 Min, 8 Pts, 4-6 FG,0-3 FT, 9 Reb, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO (Davis may have finished with the better numbers, but Gray and Bayless were the only two Raptors who brought a solid effort from the second they touched the floor. When Aaron Gray is your best player against teams like the Celtics, you’re just asking for a beat-down.)

Celtics Player of the Game: Paul Pierce – 26 Min, 17 Pts, 5-11 FG, 4-6 3Pt, 3-4 FT, 6 Reb, 8 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk, 1 TO