The Boston Celtics won their sixth straight game on Saturday, defeating the Raptors 110-99, a contest which featured 20 lead changes and 18 ties. DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 32 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, with Serge Ibaka chipping in 15 and 10 rebounds.
Boston is now just two games-back from Toronto and the 1-seed in the East. Toronto would have to win Wednesday’s Celtics game at home in order to hold onto the top spot.
For the Celtics, three players scored over 20 points, including 24 from Marcus Morris (who was later ejected for... talking) off the bench, and Jayson Tatum — who had a 14 point third quarter.
The first half was a tightly contested battle which featured both teams playing highly efficient basketball. The high-flying offensive showcase in the first quarter quickly turned into a grind-em-out defensive trench war in the second.
Neither team could establish control of the game early on, as the two clubs combined to shoot 13-of-18 in the first six minutes of game time. Kyle Lowry looked ready to continue his recent hot streak by drilling his first shot, a 27-footer, in the opening moments, but would go on to miss his next six three-point attempts. Lowry would finish with 11 points and nine assists in 34 minutes.
Serge Ibaka looked great early, connecting on both of his three-point shots en route to eight points in eleven first quarter minutes while DeMar DeRozan tallied six points and five assists. Ibaka was shooting just 30 percent from three during the month of March.
11 Minutes— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 1, 2018
3 Rebounds pic.twitter.com/ZVdZNXlXff
Toronto led 33-31 after one, thanks to a Fred VanVleet buzzer-beating three. Each of Toronto’s starters scored at least five points, while Boston’s offense was led by Terry Rozier, who shot a perfect 4-of-4 for 10 points, and Aron Baynes with 12.
Toronto’s reserves opened up the second frame and the defensive intensity immediately increased for both teams. Al Horford played early in the second quarter against the Raptors’ young five-man unit, and Brad Stevens turned to both he and Greg Monroe to get them offense. The normally dominant bench-mob was mostly nondescript in the first half, but managed to keep the score close for the starting group.
By the time the starters re-entered the game at the six minute mark, both teams were significantly cooler on offense and the score remained within two possessions the rest of the second quarter. Toronto’s biggest lead in the half was five points and they took a 55-53 lead into the third quarter.
As a team, the Raptors shot 54 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep, while tallying 13 assists on 21 made field goals. They managed to force the Celtics into relatively bad shots throughout, but failed to take advantage of Boston’s cold-shooting mid-way through the second quarter.
Boston showed the Raptors why they have kept winning games despite missing their star, by making timely, difficult shots and playing pesky defense.
Raps up 55-53 at the half. Update: this Celtics team remains annoying as hell.— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) April 1, 2018
Toronto was led to that point by three players in double-figures, including DeRozan with 13, and both Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas adding 10 each. Fred VanVleet chipped in nine points in nine minutes off the bench, while Rozier had 12 first-half points for Boston.
Ibaka’s first-half shooting was a welcome change, and hopefully indicates an increase in output heading into the postseason. March featured some of Ibaka’s worst games as a Raptor, as he shot less than 40 percent from the field overall in addition to the aforementioned 30 percent mark from deep.
Toronto jumped on the Celtics out of halftime, punishing them with pure physicality on defense and incredible ball-movement on the other end, helping increase their lead to six-points in the opening minutes.
But, as is Boston’s wont, they refused to go away. After a Stevens timeout, the C’s hit a few threes and got a couple and-one’s thanks to a few “lucky” whistles before eventually tying the score up at 74 a piece with four minutes left in the third.
Despite being forced into more bad shots, lowering their overall field-goal percentage to 44 percent by the end of the quarter, the Celtics continued to make the timely baskets needed to stay in the game.
The third was ultimately the DeRozan show, as he finished the frame with 15 points, including a last second push-shot to give the Raptors a two-point lead heading into the final stretch. His performance was a much needed break from his recent shooting slump, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 at the line in the third. He would finish 12-of-19 from the floor (although he did go 0-of-5 from deep).
As a team, however, the Raptors went ice-cold from long-range, making just 1-of-10 three-point attempts in the third, and it started to become a problem in their attempts to pull away during the fourth.
C.J. Miles looked really awkward throughout as he repeatedly picked up his dribble in the lane, bit on pump-fakes (resulting in Boston FT attempts) and coughed up four costly turnovers, including a dagger late. Ibaka picked up most of the scoring slack, continuing his hot shooting in the second half, finishing a perfect 3-of-3 from downtown.
With the game knotted up at 92 with just over six minutes remaining, fans of both teams were anticipating a tough-as-nails finish between the East’s two best teams.
Unfortunately, Boston would immediately rip off an 12-2 run, giving them their biggest lead of the game with under four minutes left in the fourth. Faced with the rare 2-3 zone by Boston, Toronto couldn’t buy a three to finish the game, going 1-of-13 after drilling their first four three-pointers.
Faced with a 10-point deficit, Casey opted to go small, featuring Ibaka at center and Anunoby next to him at forward, but it was too little (pardon the pun), too late. Toronto wouldn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.
The Raptors committed 15 turnovers, including seven in the fourth quarter, to Boston’s five, with the Celtics capitalizing to the tune of +17 in points off turnovers. Combine that with 23 percent shooting from distance and that, to sum it up, was the story of the game.