When the Raptors lose games against the Celtics, they really find ways to lose them. That’s how it went in Game 1 of this series, and that’s how it went in Monday night’s Game 5. Toronto was out of sync right from the jump, falling behind early and then sinking deeper into a hard-to-define malaise on the way to a 111-89 defeat. There are not many positives to record here. And what’s more, it’s hard not to feel a mighty disappointment at the outcome — because of how the Raptors lost, sure, but also given how things had been trending for them over the past week.
So what happened? The first quarter tells the story. The Raptors’ offense looked rushed, every shot a bit harried, and no one — from Kyle Lowry on down — could come up with a solution for the team’s collective problem. As a reult, the Raptors scored just 11 points in that opening frame — a low-point for this year’s playoffs from any team — while shooting 20 from the field and 11 percent from three, while getting to the line just twice (mercifully, Lowry hit both his free throws). That Boston didn’t completely run away with it as they did in Game 1 is a testament to Toronto’s defense, which held them to a pedestrian 25 points in the quarter. But that didn’t hold forever, which is how the next quarter went — and so on.
The Raptors would go on to score just 35 points in the half, which marked another low for these playoffs amongst all teams. Obviously, they never led throughout those first 24 minutes, and found themselves down by as many as 28, ending the second quarter in a 27-point hole after yet another Kemba Walker buzzer-beater. In the process, Raptors fans got to see an exhausted Lowry struggle to get to the rim, a bedraggled Marc Gasol miss all four of his shots, and the team’s younger guns all misfire from everywhere on the court. At halftime, Fred VanVleet was 1-for-7, Norman Powell was 1-for-6, OG Anunoby was a relatively better 3-for-10 (which included one admittedly nifty stepback jumper), and the team’s high man was Pascal Siakam, who shot 66.7 percent in the half by virtue of having only taken three shots.
Since we’re all hopeless Raptors fans — and believe me, I mean that in the nicest way — there was talk of a comeback (fake or otherwise). Surely the Raptors couldn’t miss all their shots forever, right? The team’s defense could theoretically clamp the Celtics down just enough to get the lead down to a more manageable deficit in the third, couldn’t it? We have to still hold out hope for a competitive few minutes, don’t we? Well, outside of a mini-flurry from Siakam in the opening minutes, and a 5-of-6 quarter from VanVleet, the game stayed well out of reach. Boston’s lead ticked up to 30 at one point, and that was it.
At the very least, we can appreciate the rest Toronto’s starters finally got in this one. And while now we have to worry about whatever may have befallen Serge Ibaka, who went to the locker room in the fourth quarter for unknown reasons [Update: apparently Serge was just cheesed?], we can also enjoy the reality of this Game 5 being done, dead, and buried. As we learned in last year’s playoffs, whether a team wins by two or 20 has little effect on what will happen in the next game. The Raptors endured a few blowouts on their way to the 2019 title, and they’ve been embarrassed before in this very series. They can still win the dang thing, even after a brutal night like this. (And for those wondering, VanVleet ended as Toronto’s high scorer on the night with 18 points; flush the rest of the night’s stats from your memory.)
Not that anyone had read down to here, but if you’ve made it this far, I’d like to also justify my emotional outburst during the game. In a fit of pique, I tweeted:
We never learn. We fly higher and higher, feeling the heat of the sun, and never remember that the Raptors will let us down. Why do we do this to ourselves???— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) September 7, 2020
It was a careless thing to do, of course, because being a Raptors fan in 2020 is much different than it was in, say, 2018, prior to them winning the championship. On this point, it’s clear they haven’t always let us down as I was reminded many times last night, in a multitude of ways. Having won the title just last year, we — by which I mean, I — should probably just chill. If nothing else, it’s sage advice in the face of such mondo defeat.
Nevertheless, I must insist: it’s not the defeat itself that bothers me. The Celtics are a good team, and this was always going to be a tough series for the Raptors — a toss-up even, one that could go seven games, and end up either way. In that spirit, what I assume we’d like to see — and have seen over the past three contests — is close games, competitive match-ups, entertaining basketball with high stakes and meaningful moments, one right after the other up to the final buzzer. It can be tough to watch the Raptors lose those games too — and it’d be a shame to lose this series — but it does not compare to watching them get embarrassed as they did in Game 5. That’s the part that stings.
Yes, there will be a Game 6, and maybe even a Game 7. As I said above, the Raptors have been here before, enduring letdowns against all sorts of different teams at different times throughout their history. And, yes, a championship memory does go a long way towards healing that particular mental wound, especially coming as it did not that long ago. But still, it’s hard not to get emotional about it! Even when — or perhaps especially when — I tell myself not to. We’ve all been there too, I think, and we all have to remember to pull ourselves back from the brink.
So now, all I can do is wish for the same wisdom and fortitude to come to the Raptors. Down 3-2 in the series now, their season on the line against Boston. We’ll see what happens on Wednesday.