The recipe for breaking a three-game losing streak? A match against a team playing its third game in four nights...
Usually when the Toronto Raptors have a lead with about eight minutes left in a game, I begin to brace myself for the inevitable comeback from the opposing team. We've seen this scenario play itself out a number of times this season, and in a good number of them, Toronto has let a lead slip away quietly into the night.
Last night there was no bracing, and in fact, I was feeling confident enough in Toronto's lead late in the match, that I was flipping channels to check in on Iona, and then the Jeremy Lin show going on in New York.
Boston just didn't look like they had it last night, and you could see it from the tip.
Their defence was a step slow, they were sloppy with the ball (12 turnovers at the half), shots weren't dropping, and Toronto was simply making all of the hustle plays. It was these plays that were proving to be the difference too as the game unfolded, as the Raps, despite some good individual scoring performances, were hardly lighting it up either.
The Dinos finished the game, shooting 44 per cent from the field, hitting on only 5 of 19 long-range shots, and their 20 trips to the free-throw line were hardly an indication of dominance in that category either.
But look at some of the other stats last night.
-A 42 to 34 rebounding advantage for TO, not to mention a 13 to 7 dominance in terms of offensive rebounds.
-26 assists on 75 shots.
-9 steals as opposed to only 3 for Boston.
-And even though the Raps turned it over 11 times, the C's were even worse, coughing up the ball 16 times, giving Toronto an extra 15 points to put on the scoreboard.
And that was that.
By the time James and Amir Johnson were dunking home their final points of the match, the deflated Celtics knew it was over and resorted to their usual bullying tactics. Rajon Rondo went after Linas Kleiza, Kevin Garnett started talking trash to DeMar DeRozan, and Doc Rivers...well...he probably wished that he was back at Chapel Hill, watching his son drain game-winning 3's.
Toronto had lost 17 of 19 to Boston going into last night's affair, so the win had to feel good.
Unfortunately it's hard for me to put too much stake in it, considering that this was likely what many are calling a "lockout loss" for Boston. Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton coined the term and it's definition goes something like this:
A loss "caused by this year's compacted schedule, even if it's not necessarily at the end of a lengthy stretch of games."
In this case, the Celtics were playing their third game in four nights, the previous night, going to OT in a hard-fought loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
If asked, Boston coach Rivers likely wouldn't use his team's recent schedule as an excuse for last night's performance (he called two consecutive timeouts at one point last night to rip into his team), but to anyone who saw the game, you knew that you weren't watching the usual Celtics' squad.
Rajon Rondo walked through the first three quarters, Paul Pierce was abysmal, Ray Allen was pretty much invisible, and only KG seemed interested to be playing. Raptors' colour commentator Jack Armstrong noted on a few different occasions that the C's were playing as if they just wanted the game to be over.
However while I think it's important to point out the "lockout loss" possibility in terms of last night's result, one that likely was a downer to those who are riding the "tank" all the way to June, let's not disregard some solid individual performances either.
Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan were fantastic, and fantastic for the first time at the same time in quite a while. DeMar was aggressive right from the get-go, curling off screens and finding his mid-range game. His long-range game...well...a couple airballs early weren't great, but the encouraging thing is that those misses didn't dismay DeMar, and he kept at it, putting up a game-high 21 points on some consistent offensive handiwork.
Consistent is obviously the key word here as the team desperately needs him to make his presence known minus Andrea Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless. And to see Jose, who had been struggling with his shot, hit on 7 of 12 attempts, in addition to pouring in 14 assists, was fantastic as well. With those two playing at the tops of their respective games, it allowed others to follow suite and we saw huge contributions from Toronto's other starters as well, James Johnson, Aaron Gray and Amir Johnson.
Now the hope is that Toronto builds off this win going into tomorrow's match-up with the Lakers.
LA fell to the Jeremy Lin show last night, and likely will be extremely hungry to get back in the win column. Many were joking that after losing the dual to Lin, Kobe Bryant would certainly be looking to drop another 81 on Toronto Sunday.
And this to me is where it gets interesting.
Can the Raptors play at last night's level on Sunday, possibly upsetting the Lake Show?
I think that's the best way to view this club during this shortened season as while last night's win was a terrific feel-good moment, true improvement will be measured by consistent success and until we see that, it's pretty hard not to look at wins like last night's as simply the result of a strange, lockout shortened campaign.