I was obviously expecting a Raptors loss in Boston today, especially when it was revealed that Rajon Rondo would return to Boston’s lineup, so I can’t say I’m frustrated or disappointed with the result itself. But when the Raps dig themselves a 16-point first half hole to a vastly superior team, then claw back to make it a two-point game late in the third quarter, it’s hard not to be frustrated at a final spread of 19 points.
Here are some thoughts on the game:
- I mentioned the close game late in the third quarter. The Raptors were more than just hanging around, going toe-to-toe with the Celtcs for the majority of the second and third quarters to trail 63-61 with just 3:30 remaining in the third. Toronto was making good decisions and taking care of the ball on offence while staying locked in on defence, and I began to legitimately believe we would have a good ball game on our hands down the stretch. Instead, the Celtics closed the third quarter on an inexcusable 16-3 run – in just three-and-a-half minutes – to take a 15-point cushion into the fourth quarter.
In total, the Celtics stretched their lead from two to 20 in about five minutes of game time.
- In case you weren’t already aware why Rondo’s availability for this game pretty much sealed the Raptors’ fate in my mind, perhaps now you understand. With Jose Calderon, like so many NBA point guards, unable to contain him, Rondo picked apart Toronto’s defence from the opening possession, posting a ridiculous 20 assists in 32 minutes and even hitting the odd jumper when the Celtics needed him to. The Raptors didn’t have anyone on the floor who came close to impacting the game the way Rondo did.
- The late third quarter collapse obviously proved to be the true turning point of the game, but the Raptors giving up 30 points on over 70 per cent shooting in the first quarter to dig themselves a 13-point hole didn’t exactly help things either. With three days off between Tuesday’s game in Indiana and Saturday’s matinee in Boston, there was no reason for the Raptors to lack defensive intensity out of the gate. Sure, the Celtics hit some tough shots that were defended adequately, but giving up 73.7 per cent shooting in a quarter is about more than just the opposing team hitting tough shots.
- DeMar DeRozan settled for too many jumpers, Jose Calderon wasn’t the same player we had seen in recent games and Jonas Valanciunas got into early foul trouble, but once again, I have to reserve special criticism for Mr. “enigma of all enigmas,” Andrea Bargnani. Bargs came out agressive on the offensive end and even looked to take it at Kevin Garnett in the first quarter. Then he was a big part of why the Raptors had made it such a tight contest to start the second half. But yet again, Bargnani seemed content at a crucial point of the game, and simply seemed to let up, especially on the defensive end.
He surely wasn’t the only one at fault today, but his lack of movement on defence was one of the most glaring problems I saw during the Celtics’ big run to close out the third quarter.
- Valanciunas fouled out for the first time in his young career, picking up the six fouls in just 19 minutes of action. Even more concerning about some of the ticky-tack fouls that were called on Jonas was the fact that as a team, the Raptors were actually getting the benefit of the whistles for most of the day (by the end of the game, both teams ended up with 23 personal fouls).
- While Valanciunas’ foul trouble can be forgiven as a 20-year-old rookie, Amir Johnson’s continued propensity to commit fouls as a 25-year-old, eight-year veteran is a lot harder to swallow. Amir came into this game actually averaging more fouls per minute than Valanciunas, and picked up four, himself, in just 16 minutes of action, a lot of which was spent guarding rookie Jared Sullinger. I’ll never doubt Johnson’s hustle and have been pretty impressed with his overall play to start the season, but he still has too many of these head scratching games where you can just tell the focus isn’t there. At this point, it’s just something you have to expect from Amir every so often. Hopefully he can bounce back on Sunday against the Magic.
- The Raptors’ best big man on this day was unquestionably Ed Davis, whose effort on the defensive end and especially on the boards played a big part in the Raptors’ best stretch of the game. Though he had some defensive lapses of his own, Davis finished with seven points on 2-of-3 shooting to go along with nine rebounds (four offensive rebounds), three assists, a steal and a block in only 21 minutes of playing time.
- One of the most frustrating parts of this game was the fact that the Raptors finally had a sizable advantage in terms of free throw attempts but couldn’t capitalize. If you’re going to complain about not getting calls (and the Raptors did have reason to complain), then you best do better than 21-of-31 from the charity stripe when you take 10 more free throws than the other team. It doesn’t look like it made a difference in the final result, but had the Raptors converted some of their earlier free throws, they probably would have held a slight lead early in the second half.
It’s even more frustrating when you consider that the Raps came into this game tied for second in the NBA in free throw percentage.
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain the garbage time stretch towards the end of the game was the first time that all three Raptors rookies shared the floor at the same time, as Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy and Valanciunas manned the shooting guard, power forward and centre positions, respectively.
- Speaking of Ross, the rookie swingman finished with a decent statline of 10 points (on 4/6 shooting), four rebounds, an assist, a steal and a nice chase down block in just under 24 minutes, but the majority of that damage came in the aforementioned garbage time with the game already well out of reach. With Landry Fields and Alan Anderson out of the lineup, Ross is going to get more of an opportunity at the wing, and I’d like to see him do a little more with it. His defensive effort is good and the basketball IQ is there, but Ross has the tools to be more of an offensive threat than he has shown thus far, and it seems like it’s more a question of confidence than actual ability right now.
There are moments early in games where Ross has a chance to take a shot or even drive the basketball, but too often defers to others or shies away from the spotlight. I assume this will change as he becomes more comfortable on an NBA court, but I think Terrence has it in him to make more of an impact sooner rather than later.
- John Lucas III and Linas Kleiza will get the Raptors back into games once in a while with their shooting, but for the most part, if they’re on the floor at the same time, you can usually expect a lot of bad shots to be thrown up. On that note, I think I’m going to start calling Kleiza “Long-two-Linas.”
Have I ever mentioned that deep two-point attempts eat away at my soul?
- The Raptors haven’t won at Boston since January 23, 2008, a streak that now stands at nine straight losses.
Raptors Player of the Game: Ed Davis – 7 Pts, 2/3 FG, 3/6 FT, 9 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk in 20:36
Celtics Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo – 6 Pts, 3/4 FG, 0/1 3PT, 2 Reb, 20 Ast, 1 Stl, 5 TO in 32:12
Even without Kyle Lowry, Fields and Anderson, the Raptors should grab a victory over Orlando on Sunday if they play up to their potential, as a home game against the Magic seems like a shoe-in W. But if the Raps approach the matchup with that entitled attitude, they will come out on the wrong end of a bad result. Orlando is not a good basketball team by any stretch of the imagination, and they don’t have anything resembling a star player, but they do have a collection of players (Nelson, Davis, Afflalo, Redick) capable of going off if you don’t bring a respectable effort on the defensive end.
While I don’t think the game will be as easy as some fans think, I do think the Raptors should come away with the win. It’s been a mostly frustrating start to the season, but take care of Orlando tomorrow, get to 3-7 after 10 games, and go from there.