The Toronto Raptors were good all year but found nothing but lumps of coal in their stockings on Christmas Day.
Behind hot shooting and rock-solid defense, the Boston Celtics put the Raptors away 118-112 in the first ever Christmas Day NBA game in Toronto.
The shorthanded Raptors, who have so often been up to tall tasks this season when missing key players, just didn’t have the horses to compete with a long, athletic Celtics team, even one missing Marcus Smart. Jaylen Brown missed only three shots on his way to 30 points, and Kemba Walker took advantage of every clean look he got, dropping in five three-pointers to finish with 21.
For a brief moment, it looked like the Raptors might treat the festive crowd to another miracle comeback. Down by 19 heading into the fourth, Nick Nurse broke out the full-court press and it made an immediate impact, as Chris Boucher drained a three-pointer, the Raptors forced a turnover and Fred VanVleet scored a runner.
But a missed Patrick McCaw layup and a VanVleet turnover burned the Raptors, and the Celtics quickly adjusted, using a 6-0 run to give them 20-point cushion with 10 minutes to play. The Raptors never got closer than 17 again until garbage time was well underway.
Once again the Raptors were burned by an opposing team’s three-point shooting. As we know, the Raps are generally fine with cheating off the three-point line to pack the paint, gambling that they can get back out to shooters — but without Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell to help rotate on the perimeter, it’s a much riskier proposition. The Celtics shot 50% overall and 42% from long range.
Meanwhile, the Celtics were able to mostly silence the mastermind of the previous two games’ comebacks. Kyle Lowry just didn’t have the same juice for this one that he’s had in the last two, managing just 14 points on 13 shots with 5 turnovers, and only two assists after halftime.
Lowry wasn’t the only Raptor with butterfingers; the team was careless with the ball all game long: they finished with 17 turnovers, many of them unforced — a Terence Davis double dribble, obvious travel calls on Serge Ibaka and McCaw, Lowry dribbling a ball off his foot and VanVleet throwing a simple swing pass out of bounds. The Celtics scored 20 points off those turnovers, and had 15 fast break points.
Credit, obviously, must be given to the Celtics defense, who barely gave up a single open look all night and constantly hustled back in transition, negating the Raptors’ running game, and holding Toronto to just 12 fast break points.
The Raptors came out to a picture perfect start, a 10-0 run with two Ibaka short jimmies and two Lowry three-pointers. But a Brad Stevens timeout woke the Celtics up and it was all Boston for the rest of the first — a 28-9 run gave them the 8-point lead at the quarter break.
In the second, the Celtics brought Enes Kanter off the bench and the Raptors just didn’t have the size to keep him out of the lane. The good news for Toronto? Kanter had no interest in guarding Chris Boucher at the other end. Boucher bombed two triples and paced the Raps with 13 at the half. He finished with a career-high 22.
Kanter’s rebounding (a game-high) 11 was also a difference-maker for the Celtics, as they outscored Toronto 24-4 on second chance points.
Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 27 points, and carried a lot of the offense on the day, attempting a game-high 21 shots. Serge Ibaka led the team with eight rebounds.
Patrick McCaw played 32.5 minutes and was a game-worst -22.