I love it when a good plan comes together.
After losing by double digits to the Celtics on Christmas morning — spoiling the unwrapping of presents for Toronto fans everywhere — the Raptors responded to win the second half of a home-and-home against the Celtics on Saturday night, 113-97. The loss is just the second of the season for Boston at TD Garden, and snaps a five-game win streak for the green team.
With the team beginning a tightly scheduled stretch of games and five players listed on the injury report, observers of the Raptors probably didn’t have high expectations coming into tonight. Yet, Toronto came out victorious with all the hallmarks of other signature wins this season — an excellent game plan, hustling at all the crucial moments, and some unexpected contributions.
After being out-rebounded by 11 three days ago, Nick Nurse responded by matching the minutes of Enes Kanter (for the most part) with Serge Ibaka. The move paid off on both ends — Ibaka not only neutralized Kanter’s impact on the offensive glass (Enes had just two OREBs), he also worked suspect interior defence on the other end.
Ibaka’s opportunities came as many other Raptors’ did on Saturday, through sharp ball movement and hard cuts to the rim. After an incredible first quarter, Ibaka would finish with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The interior play was also shored up by a surprise face off the bench in Oshae Brissett. In this game, as with many officiated by Tony Brothers, reffing was a hot button issue — the biggest impact being the exclusion of OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from the momentum of the game. Both fouled out in just 34 combined minutes, leaving the door open for other players to step into the forward rotation.
Enter Brissett. With the game swinging toward Boston late in the third quarter, the Raptors 905 two-way player made three massive rebounds — two on the offensive end — to power a 5-0 Raptors run and stretch a five-point lead to ten. The Celtics would never get closer than nine points after this.
The other surprise performance in the Raptors win was from Patrick McCaw. The subject of much ridicule for his game on Christmas, McCaw played like a man possessed from the opening tap, and really found a chance to shine in pick-and-roll sets — with Kemba Walker guarding either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet, McCaw was able to get Boston’s suspect bigs in action with another Celtics guard. The game plan worked, as the three-time champ had 18 points, seven rebounds, and a career-high eight assists in 43 minutes. Easily his best game as a Raptor.
And, of course, maestro of it all was Kyle Lowry. His 30 points, seven assists, and four rebounds were typical of what we’ve seen since Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell went down due to injury — when the game gets tough, Lowry finds a way to lift his team up.
At the end of the first quarter, Marcus Smart dribbled the length of the floor and made a leaning three at the buzzer. Immediately visible was Lowry, yelling across the floor at Terence Davis about a missed opportunity to pick up Smart at halfcourt. There’s no question that moments of accountability like that rub off on this team, and help give it the character and will necessary to play the 48 minutes of defence they did tonight.
Smart was a helpful addition for the Celtics in this one after missing eight games due to an eye infection, but miserable outings from Gordon Hayward (3-for-13) and Jayson Tatum (3-for-7) sunk the Celtics’ offence, which shot just 39.7% from the field and 21.9% from three. For his part, Kemba Walker matched Lowry’s 30 points, while Jaylen Brown chipped in 17.
The Raptors, now 22-10 on the season, head home for a quick turnaround to play the Oklahoma City Thunder tomorrow. Tip time is 6 PM.