Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors

If it wasn’t obvious coming into the game, it should be painfully obvious after this game. The Celtics are a veteran playoff team and the Raptors are an inexperienced, surefire lottery team…albeit without an actual lottery pick.

Now let’s get to some thoughts on the game…

- So about the whole playoffs thing, while I’ve mentioned hundreds of times recently that no one Raptors-related should be talking post-season until this team actually strings some serious streaks together, plenty of fans on twitter and elsewhere still brought up the standings and the playoff race after nearly every game. After tonight, there should be no more of that. The Raptors are 8.5 games out. They’re 15 games under .500 with just 33 games left. They’ve lost six of seven games against the teams currently seeded seventh to ninth.

On that note, no decision made from here on out, whether it’s with respect to in-game coaching or team management, should be made with an eye to this season’s standings or false playoff hopes. Find a real backup point guard and then give Alan Anderson and Aaron Gray’s minutes to Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas in an effort to start putting together a playoff core for next season.

- Speaking of rookie minutes, Valanciunas and Ross combined for just 6:35 of playing time tonight with no field goal attempts between the two of them. Even more indicative of the lack of faith in the youngsters though, was the fact that Ross played less than five minutes when Alan Anderson and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-of-23 from the floor without either playing particularly good defence. It’s one thing if Anderson was still shooting well coming into this game, but he’s 8-of-41 over his last five games now and is negating any of his reputed “veteran presence” by chucking some offence-killing jumpers. At this point, you’re losing absolutely nothing by giving his minutes to Ross.

- Amir Johnson had a solid game of 16 points and 12 rebounds and also recorded a block for the ninth straight game, but a crucial mistake in crunch-time will overshadow some of that hustle. With the Raptors down three, some good defence forced a missed Paul Pierce jumper with just 18 seconds remaining. The rebound fell to Amir, but instead of securing the ball and either finding his point guard or calling timeout, he attempted to throw an unnecessary short pass to DeMar DeRozan, who dove to save the loose ball but landed out of bounds. It was the most “Raptors” way to lose another close game, as they got a big stop and would have had a chance for the tie (or at the very least to make it a 1 or 2-point game), but instead turned the ball over and were forced to send the Celtics to the free throw line.

- Rudy Gay had an absolutely awful fourth quarter (2 points on 1/9 shooting), but a few of those misses came on shots he can normally knock down and to his credit, he continued to attack the glass and defended well on the other end in the second half. Don’t get me wrong, the Raptors need him to be better down the stretch – after all, he’s supposed to be the “closer” – but without Gay’s overall effort in this game and his performance through three quarters, the Raptors aren’t in this game.

- In the third quarter, Gay and Kyle Lowry took the game over on both ends of the floor and were directly responsible for the Raptors building a 10-point lead, which the team subsequently blew within the first four minutes of the fourth quarter with Gay and Lowry on the bench. Watching John Lucas III run the offence is honestly one of the most painful things I’ve had to do as a Raptors fan since Will Solomon. He wasn’t even looking for his own shot tonight (he didn’t attempt a single field goal), and yet he was still a major disruption to the offence and a team worst -12 in just 10 minutes of action. It’s not for a lack of effort on Lucas’ part, but for the love of God, somebody call Ben Uzoh!

- If you thought the first two games with Gay in the lineup were a sign of things to come for DeMar DeRozan, Wednesday’s game against the Celtics should serve as a harsh reminder that things won’t always be so easy for DeMar. DeRozan was 5-of-16 from the field tonight and just generally looked out of sync in the offence. I know Matt Devlin, Leo Rautins and Jack Armstrong always talk about how DeRozan needs to start driving into contact instead of shying away from it on drives, but one thing I’ve noticed is that he can also use that advice on his jump-shots. There were at least three times tonight when DeRozan got his defender up in the air with a nice pump-fake, but instead of leaning in on his shot to draw the foul, he faded away to avoid the contact and ended up taking a more difficult shot.

What’s the point of baiting a guy into the air if you’re not going to use it to your advantage?

- We can’t wrap up without talking about Andrea Bargnani’s return to the lineup. Bargnani finished with a decent 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting in nearly 24 minutes of action off of the bench to go with three rebounds, two assists and two steals. I thought his energy was fine and liked the fact that he kept the ball moving on offence, and I actually thought he did a solid job defending Kevin Garnett (I wouldn’t have minded seeing Bargnani on Garnett down the stretch), but there were also more than a few missed rebounding opportunities with Andrea on the floor, as usual.

By the way, I’m all for booing the home team or individual players if the paying crowd feels the effort wasn’t there on that particular night, but I’m not really sure what the point of booing a guy checking in for his first game in two months is, as some fans did to Bargnani when he checked in midway through the first quarter.

- I’ll close with a few words on the Celtics. While the five-game winning streak may be a bit of a mirage (after beating the Heat last Sunday, the other four wins have come over the Kings, Magic, Paul-less Clippers and now the Raptors), you still have to give Doc Rivers and this veteran team a ton of credit for pulling this off without any post-injury letdown whatsoever. Boston is now two games over .500, and if they continue to take care of the teams they should beat, they should still grind their way to 40 wins or more and another playoff berth.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Kyle Lowry – 17 Pts, 6/12, 3/6 3PT, 2/3 FT, 7 Reb, 8 Ast, 4 Stl, 4 TO in 37:52

Celtics Player Of the Game: Kevin Garnett – 27 Pts, 11/18 FG, 5/5 FT, 10 Reb, 2 TO in 32:18