To the surprise of many, the Toronto Raptors have been one of the most consistently successful teams in the NBA this season. They handle opponents lower than them in the standings (a continuing trend from the previous two seasons) and put up great fights against the league’s contenders.
Sometimes, though, you just get punched in the mouth.
That’s what happened tonight as they took on the rival Celtics — an opponent that looked poised to make a statement from the opening tap. Toronto’s top players were unable to make open shots early, and then couldn’t work their way out of their funk later, eventually slipping far enough to trail Boston by 40. The final score was a bit more respectable: 122-100.
The loss is Toronto’s first since March 1 in Denver, and snaps a seven-game win streak that spanned the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus.
It wouldn’t be fair to get into the details of Friday’s game without giving the Celtics some credit. They soundly won one of the game’s key matchups, as Jaylen Brown both ably guarded Pascal Siakam on one end and poured in critical shots on the other. Marking a +28 and shooting 7-for-14, Brown had 20 points, six rebounds, and two assists to lead all players in scoring.
The Celtics got plenty of support from Jayson Tatum, who had 18 points, and Kemba Walker, who scored 17 — including four threes. Seven Celtics in total scored in double figures, with none of their starters posting anything lower than a +17.
Toronto, meanwhile, struggled from the tap. Siakam noticeably appeared flustered by the defense of Brown, forcing some shots and dribbling into help regularly. Still, he was able to put in 11 points and shoot a somewhat respectable 5-for-15, which helps hide some of the eye test struggles in the box score. Fred VanVleet was the high point man for the Raptors with 13.
After opening 1-for-9 from the field, the Raptors found themselves in an early hole down 12-2. While Toronto has typically composed themselves through poor shooting stretches, there was a bit of unravelling on Friday against a switch-y, active Celtics defense. After the poor start, it was almost like each player individually wanted to work through their struggles — which resulted in many of the 17 total turnovers Toronto would finish with.
Still, Kyle Lowry’s individual effort found some pay dirt. Early in the second quarter, an and one layup was followed by this charge taken on Gordon Hayward.
KLow's fearless pic.twitter.com/XOs23Y0F9f— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) August 8, 2020
A Siakam floater moments later cut the Celtics lead to nine and gave some signs of hope.
Boston responded, though, as both Brad Wanamaker and Walker made threes to stretch the lead back into double digits. The Raptors would never get closer than that in the game.
In the third quarter, the Celtics really ran away with it. An extended run after an OG Anunoby three saw them finish the quarter on a 28-9 run — which included a barrage of three-pointers — and eventually lead 111-71 midway through the fourth. After experiencing a similarly slow shooting start, the Celtics ended up making 16 threes at a 34.8% clip. Not too shabby.
The Raptors, meanwhile, had a shooting split of 43/26/82 — a number propped up by some end of bench action by Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, and Stanley Johnson with the game out of reach. All you can really do after a game like this is throw it out and assume it won’t rear its head again in the post-season.
There wasn’t much here that pops up as concerning trends. The only one for me is the matchup between Brown and Siakam. For Toronto to win a playoff series, they have to be ready to win the production battle between those two players.
Of course, those questions can be raised now but only answered in a month’s time. For now, the Raptors move on to play the Grizzlies on Sunday — their fifth of eight seeding games.