Game No. 28: Raptors 86, Celtics 74

As Scott pointed out in his game thread, the Celtics had beat the Raptors by a combined 59 points in their first two meetings, so despite the fact that the old-timer Celtics were coming off of an overtime loss to the Lakers on Thursday night, no one expected the Bargnani-less and Bayless-less Raps to hang with the Celts, let alone beat them.

So much for that. The Raptors jumped on the Celtics early and never trailed in a wire to wire victory.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- What a start. After going 14 straight games without winning a first quarter, the Raptors have now won two straight opening frames, and did so in dominating fashion on Friday night. The young Raptors jumped on the older, fatigued Celtics from the tip, jumping out to a 16-point lead with some infectious energy on both ends of the floor. Eight minutes into the ball game, the Raptors had a 14-2 advantage in points in the paint and were holding Boston to just 25 per cent shooting. When it was all said and done, the Celtics matched their lowest scoring first quarter of the season (14), and Doc Rivers was hilariously steaming.

2- Despite a great start for the Raptors, the first half overall was a dud for basketball fans. The Raptors came crashing back to earth in the second quarter and easily could have lost their lead, but luckily for them, the Celtics were just as bad. That second quarter was one of the worst quarters of basketball I’ve seen this season in any game. At one point, both teams combined to turn the ball over on five straight possessions. By the time the comedy of errors was over, the teams had combined for 21 turnovers in the first half and were shooting just 28-of-72.

3- Is DeMar finding his game again? DeRozan’s month-long slump was well publicized, but it seems that he may finally be putting it behind him and getting back on track. During his rough patch, he was never able to build on one good performance and put a string of good games together. All the more reason why his 21 points on seven-of-13 shooting against the Celtics just two days after 25 points on nine-of-18 shooting against the Bucks was encouraging. In fact, it’s the first time since early January, right before his slump began, that DeRozan has put together back-to-back 20-point games. Since exploding for 27 points against the Nets on January 29, DeRozan is averaging 17.6 points on 45 per cent shooting over his last eight games and is going to the line an average of 7.4 times per game.

Perhaps the best indication that DeRozan is finally climbing out of this funk is this – Four of DeMar’s nine 20-point games this season have come during this eight game stretch.

4- From DeRozan’s good game to the down right horrible game of Anthony Carter. When the Raptors signed Carter in December, I was fine with the move. A one-year deal for a veteran point guard who could serve as a mentor to a young team and step in when needed seemed right. While A.C. may very well be that veteran leader in the locker room, he is far from anything positive on the court. I didn’t expect him to be great, or even above average, but I thought he could at least look competent in a few minutes of burn when called upon. To date, Carter is shooting just 35 per cent and runs Toronto’s offence at a rate that makes Darrick Martin look like he deserves a spot in our Ultimate Raptors Rankings. Hopefully tonight was rock-bottom for Carter, as the 36-year-old finished with zero points (on 0-for-5 shooting), one assist, two turnovers and was a minus-15 in 11 minutes of action. He also threw an alley-oop pass that failed to make it past the restricted circle and landed comfortably in a Celtics’ player’s arms. Tank Nation, indeed.

5- As good as Jose Calderon has been this season, the point guard position is still one of many areas the Celtics have a clear advantage over the Raptors. Naturally, you would assume that Calderon would have to at least come close to competing with Rajon Rondo if the Raptors ever have a chance against Boston. On Friday night, Calderon did more than compete with the younger, faster Rondo, he flat out took him to school. While Rondo fumbled and bumbled to just five points (on 2-of-10 shooting), seven assists and five turnovers, Calderon lit him up for 17 points (on 7-of-12 shooting), 14 assists and zero turnovers.

In his last two games, Calderon has 29 assists compared to just one turnover. It’s these kind of stretches that give some Raps fans hope that Calderon can bring back valuable assets in a trade, and others’ hope that he’ll still be in Toronto’s future plans.

6- As most of you are well aware, the Celtics have used the Raptors as punching bags during the “Big Three” era in Boston, and while the Raps had mustered two wins in 19 tries heading into this game, I think we can all agree that this victory had a much different feel. As you may recall, the other two wins came in games that were decided in the final minute and final possessions. This was really the first time in five seasons, and the first time ever against the Celtics’ Big Three (now “Big Four”), that the the Raptors have handedly defeated them.

In many ways, an undermanned Raptors team bullied the bullies. Maybe it was just another sign that the Celtics are getting old, maybe it was nothing more than an anomaly in this helter-skelter 66-game season, but I must say, Tank Nation or no Tank nation, it was pretty sweet to watch unfold.

Raptors Player of the Game: Jose Calderon – 38 Min, 17 Pts, 7-12 FG, 1-3 3PT, 2-3 FT, 4 Reb, 14 Ast, 1 Stl

Celtics Player of the Game: Kevin Garnett – 29 Min, 17 Pts, 6-9 FG, 5-6 FT, 8 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl