It was a wild Tuesday night, in which the Raptors got their rings, raised a banner and went to overtime, but we’re about to hit the doldrums of the regular season real fast. Road trips, back-to-backs, perpetually annoying non-contenders like the Bulls and Kings.
First though, the Raptors had to take on their division rivals, the Celtics. These aren’t the same Celtics as before though, gone are Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, and gone, at least I hoped, were my petty obsessions over division rivalries, as I believed they would be rendered irrelevant in the wake of the Raptors’ title win. It turns out, though, that I still care too much about losing to the Celtics, and as such it my great displeasure to inform you that tonight the Raptors suffered an exciting but very, very sloppy 112-106 loss to the Bad Green Team.
The Raptors starters were, initially, rather horrendous. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet got discombobulated on a play in transition, and some over-passing led to a missed easy opportunity. Siakam collapsed the defense on drives, but his kick-out passes resulted in more turnovers than assists, and he forced some tough looks in the post. Marc Gasol picked-up where he left off in the home opener, as he looked utterly disastrous in his first half minutes. Gasol missed his catch-and-shoot opportunities, got beat up on the glass, and was slow-footed defending in space. Fred VanVleet struggled around the rim, and wasn’t getting many three-point chances.
OG Anunoby showed some stuff, including a pick-and-roll he ran to perfection as a passer(?!) and a putback dunk. Kyle Lowry was the real bright spot, hitting a triplicate of transition threes en-route to 11 first half points.
The Celtics, for their part, had some significant struggles of their own, especially in the halfcourt as Kemba Walker was severely limited by the stingy defense of VanVleet. Still, they capitalized on the Raptors’ myriad mistakes by getting out and running and by pounding the offensive glass. Daniel Theis, Grant Williams and Robert Williams combined for 8 first half offensive rebounds, and Jaylen Brown scored often in transition, while adding some quick driving attacks for 13 first half points.
Serge Ibaka gave the Raptors some life off the bench. Ibaka played some power forward minutes upon first checking in, but once Gasol came out he was moved to the five, and he offered the Raptors some remarkable rim protection, wracking up 3 first half blocks.
Offensively, Ibaka made plays on the roll, both for himself, as he turned rim-runs into short post-ups, and for others, as he kicked the ball out to Terence Davis for a catch-and-shoot three.
Davis otherwise gave the Raptors a little too much of his trademark energy off the bench, picking up 3 quick fouls. Norm Powell had some good drives, like when he took Gordon Hayward clean off the bounce for a layup, and some bad drives, like when he got caught in the air and threw it away. Stanley Johnson became the 9th Raptor to make an appearance this year as he checked in for 5 minutes, hit a three-pointer, was otherwise awful, and was never heard from again.
The end result of the up-and-down half was a 50-49 lead for the Celtics, as a last second three-shot foul committed against Marc Gasol was turned into an offensive foul commited by Marc Gasol through a Brad Stevens coaches challenge.
The third quarter was characterized by Brown and Lowry staying hot while Siakam, Walker and Jayson Tatum got hot. Lowry scored the Raptors’ first 11 points of the quarter (remember the last time he did that?) mostly by hitting a series of tough threes punctuated by a standstill, jab-step make over Brown in the corner. Lowry’s surge put the Raptors ahead, but Brown kept the Celtics close with his ability to score around the basket, en-route to what would eventually be a 25 point night.
Lowry checked out midway through the 3rd, and suddenly it was Siakam, Tatum and Walker trading fireworks. Siakam had a flurry of unlikely threes, including some confident off the dribble makes that helped maintain the Raptors’ newly built lead, even through a surge from Walker and Tatum. The Celtics duo started hitting the jumpers they’d missed on throughout the first half, keeping things close. When the horn sounded to begin the 4th the Raptors led 82-76, however, there was some writing on the wall for the Raptors: of their 33 points in the 3rd only 7 were scored by players not named Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam.
Throughout the fourth Lowry and Siakam remained excellent, combining for 15 points and 4 assists in the frame, but their supporting cast was woeful. Marc Gasol was the lowlight, as he continued to look utterly out of sorts, slow defensively and utterly incapable of scoring. Gasol missed from the perimeter in the first half, and seemed to make a concerted effort to shift closer to the rim in the second, where he missed as well, needlessly fading away from the basket on an easy putback and getting a layup soundly swatted by Jaylen Brown. The Celtics guarded Gasol with Grant Williams, a rookie, who is, without hyperbole, half a foot shorter than him and nearly 30 pounds lighter than him, and Gasol was able to make nothing of the matchup. He’d end the night 0-for-8 from the field with just 1 point.
Meanwhile, Walker added to his third quarter outburst and then some, leading the Celtics back out front by scampering off screens for pullup jumpers, and finishing over Gasol at the rim. Despite his first half inefficiencies he’d end with 22 points on the game. With just over three minutes remaining, however, Lowry and Siakam combined to equalize the game with a spectacular three-quarter court alley-oop. The Celtics called a timeout, and, after the timeout Nick Nurse finally pulled Gasol in favour of Serge Ibaka.
Vintage KLow - Skills connection pic.twitter.com/m2bHfF4dm3— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 26, 2019
Then the fireworks ceased altogether, and the Raptors died, once again, by the turnover and offensive rebound, as they had throughout the first half. The Celtics got a pair of catch-and-shoot three-pointers from Hayward and Brown, Siakam had a nice take to get to the line for a pair of free throws and, then, no one else would score over the remaining three minutes until the Raptors gave a take foul to close the game.
Walker drew a charge on Anunoby, who remains an iffy proposition when he puts the ball on the floor, despite some encouraging signs. Lowry threw the ball out of bounds trying to make an off-balance pass to the corner and missed a turn around three-pointer. Those were the only cracks the Raptors got at scoring down the stretch, as they forced near shot-clock violations (and one actual shot-clock violation) against the Celtics, but mostly failed to nab the boards that followed them.
So, the Raptors got what ended being up a 29 point, 7 assist showing from Lowry. They got a 33 point, 8 rebound performance from Siakam, maintaining his game one excellence. But they squandered all that, and squandered a 18-of-36 shooting night from deep as a team. The Lowry and Siakam games are positive signs, Lowry is far from hitting a wall and Siakam looks to be a viable first option early on. Ultimately, it is, of course, a long season; one game isn’t everything. Still, that’s two games in a row where the Raptors have been both beat up on the defensive glass and turnover happy, which has me tugging at the collar at least a little bit. Plus, they lost to the Celtics. I hate losing to the Celtics.