Well, that was a blast.
DeMar DeRozan dazzled, Terrence Ross put in a solid two way effort, Jonas Valanciunas was perfect from the field and Amir Johnson was properly honored as the Raptors won their sixth straight game against the Celtics on Wednesday night.
The safe prediction for tonight's game would have been a defensive battle dictated by guard play. It's no secret how lethal the DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combo have been this season, and the match-up to keep an eye on going in was the one between the Raptors stars and Boston's defense-first perimeter guys on the other side.
It only sort of played out as expected.
The battled between DeRozan and whoever Brad Stevens had on him was compelling all night. Avery Bradley kicked off the game with a stealthy pickpocket of DeRozan and brought back visions of other sturdy guards snuffing out DeRozan completely.
Bradley's strong start didn't hold up though. For much of the remainder of the game, DeRozan was unfettered by Bradley's aggressive defense. He made quick, decisive passes when Bradley had him walled up and in positions that previous renditions of DeRozan might have turned into a contested long twos.
There were at least three instances in which DeRozan avoiding forcing something that wasn't there against Bradley and instead fired a pass for an assist. Marcus Smart, Boston's other smothering combo guard didn't have luck stopping DeRozan either.
"He played through the contact, played with physicality," said Dwane Casey after the game.
DeRozan's 10 first quarter points and an excellent across-the-board showing from the starters put the Raptors up 35-27 after 12 minutes. After a pitiful second quarter (which we'll get to later) dug the Raptors a six-point halftime hole, DeRozan put together one of his finest performances to date.
In the third frame, DeRozan played like Vince-light. He sliced Boston's second-ranked defense into a fine julienne, posting 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and going 4-of-5 from the line, regaining the lead for the Raps.
It wasn't until late in fourth that Stevens stuck Jae Crowder on DeRozan. He did a much better job than his smaller teammates guarding DeRozan straight up, forcing one ugly turnaround jumped than clanked. He was also actively shutting down any action Lowry and DeRozan tried to run in concert. Luckily for the Raptors, other guys chipped in once Crowder keyed in on the scorching DeRozan.
"Some of the shots that he made were really difficult in both halves," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "Then Ross and Lowry both hit big time shots when they needed them most."
Look for Crowder to draw no. 10 more regularly in future Raptors-Celtics match-ups.
DeRozan wasn't the only motor behind the Raptors' season-best 40-point third quarter. Jonas Valanciunas continued his strong play since returning from injury, scoring thirteen of his nineteen points and showing off just how much of a nightmare he can be as a diver in the pick-and-roll.
JV's lack of fourth quarter minutes (3) and shots (0) will draw some ire, but Casey shared his reasoning for running with Biyombo in the fourth.
We had Bismack in and we could switch everything. It hurts a guy like JV because he is having the game of his life, 9-for-9, but defensively we are giving up threes at the other end. So it is a trade, we try and get those two in an out in that situation.
He's not wrong. Boston, the league's third-worst three-point shooting team at less than 33 percent, had an uncharacteristically accurate night from downtown, sinking 11 of 19 tries in the first three quarters. In the fourth, with Valanciunas mainly sitting, they went just 1-for-7.
Maybe that's just a predictable regression that would have happened regardless, but the Raptors had issues stopping the likes of Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko from making threes throughout the game. It's understandable that Casey would want to try out the more mobile Biyombo in the fourth to try and slow Boston's bigs down.
This game wasn't exactly a complete effort. Lowry had and off night (although he was still effective), Patterson's hot shooting cooled and the bench - particularly Cory Joseph - struggled; it was largely responsible for letting Boston run wild in the second quarter.
Joseph had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, bricking two threes and passing up a wide-open one that led to a Biyombo three-second violation in the fourth quarter.
Ross had issues, like the rest of his teammates, defensively in that second quarter, but he was one of the only sources of offense during that stretch. In the second half, his defense perked up. He had a steal that led to an open, but unsuccessful corner three for Joseph, and had a massive block late as the Raptors defended a narrow lead.
The strong performances by DeRozan, Valanciunas and Ross combined with some minor hiccups translated into one of the more entertaining games of the Raptors season, and a solid win over a pesky opponent. On top of that, it was further proof that DeRozan belongs in the All-Star game even though he won't be voted in Thursday night.
That's now six in a row for Toronto (27-15) with a creamy schedule on the horizon. This team is making it easy to live up to our Harsh Dave's #Positive2016 mantra.