Game No. 60: Raptors 84, Celtics 79

As Scott pointed out in his game thread on Friday, the Raptors were as close to Dead On Arrival as you can get in the NBA. They headed into a game against the hottest team in the NBA and a surefire playoff team closing in on third place in the Eastern Conference without Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, and had Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson banged up. Not to mention the fact that they would probably need significant contributions from some D-Leaguers.

It was safe to assume that loss no. 40 was on the way.

So much for that. The Raptors somehow managed to battle through the aforementioned adversity and a hideous first half to knock off the Celtics, and beat Boston twice in a season for the first time in five years. After beating the Celts just twice in four seasons between 2007-08 and 2010-11, the Raps have beat them twice in the last two months.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- It was hard to tell whether the Raptors just worked hard enough to earn the win, or if the Celtics just laid a big enough egg to earn the loss, but I’ll say it was a little bit of both. There’s no doubt that the Raps outhustled and outfought Boston, pretty much from start to finish. But from the Celtics’ perspective, they limited Toronto to just 30 first half points and played three players that are better than anyone wearing a Raptors jersey, so this loss was as much them failing to go for the jugular as it was the Raptors playing over their heads. Midway through the fourth quarter, when the Raptors’ lead hit double-digits, you could see the Celtics flip the switch and “turn it on.” Five minutes of good basketball was nearly enough to steal the game, and if they had that switch on for the whole game, this probably would have been the blowout and dud we were all expecting.

2- A potential positional battle between Amir Johnson and Ed Davis has been the topic of debate here at RaptorBlog this week, but on Friday night, both big men turned in solid performances. Amir started at power forward and put up 10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 40 minutes. Ed came off the bench and added four points while grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. The two were particularly good when on the court together in various stretches. It’s been a rare sight to see both Johnson and Davis play well on the same night this season, and it was a welcomed sight on Friday.

3- The Raptors’ 10-day guys continue to impress. Justin Dentmon didn’t look that great in 15 minutes, but he held his own and hit a couple of big shots in the fourth quarter. Alan Anderson and Ben Uzoh, on the other hand, continue to look like potential NBA-ers next season. Anderson gave the Raptors 30 solid minutes (and started again) at the three, posting 12 points, four assists, a steal and a block. Uzoh was definitely the most impressive of the three, putting up a nice looking line of eight points (on 4-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes as Toronto’s starting point guard. I doubt any of these guys will be logging big minutes for an NBA team on a consistent basis next season, but Anderson and Uzoh have performed pretty well since joining the Raptors last month, and I wouldnt be surprised if they’re at least playing themselves into jobs for next year. Uzoh, especially, impressed me with his on-ball defence and his quickness in penetrating Boston’s defence in this one.

4- One guy who wasn’t a bright spot for the Raptors in this game was James Johnson, who continues to struggle re-establishing himself in the lineup. I really hoped that Dwane Casey’s benching of Johnson last week would light a fire under him and spark him to continue to improve his game, as he had by leaps and bounds in the last few months. Instead, James is averaging four points and five rebounds while shooting under 20 per cent (6-of-31) in 18 minutes per game since returning to the lineup on Sunday. Friday night against the Celtics had to be rock bottom, as Johnson played just six minutes, collected two points and a rebound, and missed all three of his field goal attempts. Worst of all, he looked absolutely uninspired and defeated on the court. Hopefully Johnson can show us something, but more importantly, show Dwane Casey and the coaching staff something, over the final six games of the season, because I’m starting to believe he may not have as secure a place in the future plans as we all thought he did.

5- Okay, so this is a completely unrelated to basketball thought, but just once, I’d like the Raptors’ game operations staff (or whoever is in charge of these things) to pick an entrance song for the Raptors starting lineups at the beginning of the season, and stick with that music for the duration of the season. If you recall way back in December, in my thoughts on the home opener, I pointed out the obviously positive crowd reaction to Drake’s “Headlines” when the music hit. It was definitely the most positive reaction I can remember to Raptors’ entrance music in years, and I remember thinking, maybe this year they’ll actually stick with something. Instead, I think we’re on the third or fourth different song this season, and they just continue to get worse. On Friday night, the Raptors came bouncing out to Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” a song I have no problem with, but one that doesn’t exactly scream sports pump-up tune. There was absolutely no energy in the building while the Toronto players came out, and I honestly believe minute details like the tone of the music can make a noticeable difference in that energy level. Let’s hope that for next season, the team comes up with some great entrance music, and sticks with it for 41 home games. If I remember correctly, the Raptors haven’t done that since they were coming out to this.

6-Speaking of crowd energy, I still thought the overall energy in the Air Canada Centre was impressive. Given that the season is now officially a write-off, that the upstart Blue Jays were in town for just their fourth home game of the season (and I’ll admit I was following the Jays game on my phone for stretches of this game) and that in general, people probably have a lot better things to do with a few hours on a Friday night in April, I was expecting a bit of a disappointing crowd turnout against the Celtics. Instead, 17,270 people showed up (and the price of tickets for a Celtics game is higher than most games) and actually cheered loudly for their lowly Raptors. The first half was a little dead, but once the game actually resembled something close to NBA competition in the third quarter, the large gathering woke up, and created a pretty good second half atmosphere for such a meaningless contest. I know I’ve said it countless times this season, but I honestly can’t wait until this team is playing meaningful basketball again, and the ACC faithful can reassert themselves as some of the best fans in the NBA.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 35 Min, 22 Pts, 4-14 FG, 1-3 3PT, 13-13 FT, 2 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Celtics Player of the Game: Paul Pierce – 34 Min, 18 Pts, 6-15 FG, 3-7 3PT, 3-3 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk, 2 TO

Once again, if you haven’t listened yet, check out our latest installment of RaptorBlog Radio, as we were joined by Jerryd Bayless for a quick chat about his season and his future with the Raptors.