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Raptors revert to old habits down the stretch, lose 95-94

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Dwane Casey plays the wrong lineups, the Raptors fail to rebound, and fall to the surging Celtics.

Toronto Raptors v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As the game started, it appeared as if we were going to get strong ball movement from the Raptors’ starters, as DeRozan, Ibaka and Lowry passed around the perimeter, resulting in Lowry being fouled on a three-point attempt. However, the offense stagnated after that, with the Celtics playing tenacious defense, hounding the Raptors and getting steals. However, DeRozan was able to stay active on offense in isolation, by either getting to the basket or shooting over a defender. Kyle Lowry looked incredible early, providing much needed energy and three-point shooting. As well, he drew his eighth charge of the year, which leads the league. Even if his shot is off, he contributes in other areas where the Raptors struggle.

Meanwhile, Norman Powell injured his right hip, and did not return to the game – the Raptors needed OG Anunoby’s energy to make up for Powell’s absence, which he provided. Valanciunas travelled trying to get Aron Baynes to bite on a jumper, and missed on a three-point attempt; he’s now 1 for 3 on the season. Rebounding was a huge problem this quarter, with the Celtics grabbing offensive boards over the Raptors’ starters. The Raptors’ transition defense was sloppy, resulting in open dunks and layups from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. DeRozan took, and missed, open looks from three. While he’s active on the offensive end, ball movement is stagnant, and DeRozan is shooting a ton from both midrange and inside the paint, via isolation plays. CJ Miles has looked incredibly active defensively.

The Celtics started the second quarter with great ball movement against the Raptors’ less experienced second unit. However, in response, Bebe was thrown a lob from Fred VanVleet and was fouled on the floor – it was encouraging to see some energy and creativity on the offensive end. While Delon Wright looked spooked by the Celtics’ relentless defense, CJ Miles looked awesome on both ends of the floor. By running the floor swiftly in transition, he hit a beautiful floater. Throughout the quarter, the Celtics were consistently grabbing offensive boards and, in turn, getting open looks from three-point range while the Raptors’ defense scrambled. Luckily for the Raptors, for the most part, the Celtics’ shots weren’t falling.

When Jakob Poeltl was inserted into the game, he made his impact felt, grabbing an offensive rebound and quickly going back up for a layup – a rarity for the Raptors. After a 7-0 run from the Celtics, the Raptors responded with a 6-0 run of their own. Valanciunas had done nothing so far, further solidifying his ineptitude by fouling Terry Rozier on a three-point attempt, which he made. The four point play ended the half, with the Raptors leading 49-44. Despite the Raptors getting pummelled by the Celtics on the glass, the Celtics were much less efficient than the Raptors from the field.

To start the second half, Valanciunas attempted to guard Al Horford, yet found himself victim to a made contested jumper instead. DeRozan spent much of the quarter taking midrange jumpers, both created off passes and isolation plays. DeRozan found Lowry open in the corner with a great pass, creating a made three-pointer. However, soon after, Lowry drew his fourth foul and was replaced by Delon Wright. Delon subsequently made a great ball fake, driving to the basket with ease for the layup.

However, in general, the Raptors’ ball movement could use improvement. The Celtics dominated in the first half of this quarter, scoring 21 to the Raptors’ 12, grabbing offensive rebounds and creating good looks. But, DeRozan responded with multiple fouls drawn in isolation. As well, CJ Miles continued to inject much-needed energy and three-point shooting into the game, making two subsequent shots from downtown, and contributing to an 8-0 run for the Raptors. Lucas Nogueira blocked four shots this game, further solidifying his case for extended playing time in place of Valanciunas. Suddenly, the game was tied at 73. Dwane Casey finished the quarter with an all bench lineup. Siakam somehow hit a pull-up three, followed by a quick three-point response from Rozier. The Celtics led 77-76 after the buzzer sounded, and the fourth quarter looked to be a thriller. I’m not exactly sure why Delon Wright won’t shoot at the end of the quarter, but it happened twice this game.

The Raptors started the quarter with stellar energy, but messy offense. For example, Nogueira stole the ball, then ran the entire floor and bricked an awkward runner at the rim. Dwane Casey took out CJ Miles and replaced him with Fred VanVleet. While Fred had a couple steals in this quarter, his presence on the floor in the clutch was regrettable. He’s not long enough to bother Celtic players on drives, and does not provide much versatility on offense. DeRozan, throughout the entire quarter, had taken a quadrillion isolation jumpers, scoring on few of them, and caused many turnovers. The offense completely halted, and it was incredibly infuriating – if you happened to miss this game, I envy you, and if you recorded it, I implore you to delete it off your DVR. While the offense in this game was far from spectacular, at the very least, it wasn’t the same player doing the same thing over and over. For the last 5 minutes of the game, Dwane Casey might as well have taken out the rest of the players, and watched DeRozan go at the Celtics, 5-on-1. I wish I was exaggerating.

Of course, the game ended with a missed DeRozan isolation jumper at the buzzer, and a failed offensive rebound attempt by Serge Ibaka. The Raptors could have used Jakob Poeltl’s energy on the offensive boards late in the game, and yet, he was nowhere to be found. The Raptors could have used CJ Miles’ three-point shooting, and yet, he was seated next to Poeltl on the pine.

Overall, Dwane Casey will receive deserved flak for letting this one slip through his fingertips. The Raptors needed offensive and defensive versatility; but, as expected, the lineup did not adjust as necessary. Instead, Casey encouraged bad behaviour, allowing DeRozan to take contested isolation midrange jumper after contested isolation midrange jumper. As well, his decision to sub in Fred VanVleet into the lineup late allowed for multiple open drives by lengthy, explosive Celtics.

The Raptors need to re-evaluate their culture change, because as far as I can see, down the stretch, this is the same disappointing, stagnant Raptors team I’ve become accustomed to watching over the past few years. On the bright side, however, Lowry looked stellar early on, and if he can play like that consistently, the team will be in a good spot moving forward.