The Toronto Raptors suffered through another slow start in their third preseason game last night, but turned things around in the second quarter — and ultimately matched the Boston Celtics bucket for bucket before finally falling in the final seconds, after a game-tying, buzzer-beating tip in from Dalano Banton was waved off.
Naturally, the best preseason game yet was the one that no one at Raptors HQ was available to watch live, hence today’s morning-after recap. But even if you did start watching this one right from the opening tip, no one would have blamed you for turning it off after the first quarter, with the Raptors trailing by 15 and missing 18 of their 24 first-quarter shots.
But if you did stick it out, you were rewarded with a fun finish featuring big plays from end-of-bench players on both teams. Toronto’s Sam Dekker and Boston’s Juancho Hernangomez both dropped big threes in the final minutes, and it was two Hernangomez free throws that put the Celtics up two with 7.4 seconds to go.
On the road, in the preseason, down two, Nick Nurse’s strategy was clear — go for the win. The Raptors did just that, running the old Vince Carter dive to the near sideline play for David Johnson. But Johnson didn’t have a clean catch, and dished it back to Dalano Banton who launched a slightly off balance three that hit front iron. After an Isaac Bonga tip careened left, it fell into Banton hand’s who tossed it up — and in! — but juuuust after the buzzer.
It was a heck of a finish, and it was nice to see guys like Dekker, Johnson and Bonga get some minutes.
Leading by one entering the fourth, the Raptors opened up cold, letting the Celtics go on a 14-2 run to go up 99-88. Finally Svi Mykhailiuk got a three to drop, and followed that up with a couple free throws to cut it to six. Mykhailiuk then found himself in the open court after picking off a Ryan Arcidiacono pass, and decided to get a little fancy with it, which nearly backfired!
Svi Mykhailiuk Open Double-Pump Reverse Almost Rolls Out. pic.twitter.com/1hGkZ7411Q— U.S.A sam Jebreel g.m.t ✈ (@jebreel11) October 10, 2021
Mykhailiuk finished with 12 points on nine shots, along with four boards.
With Justin Champagnie, Banton, Bonga and Johnson in the game down the stretch with Mykhailiuk, the Raptors were all length — and it gave the Celtics some trouble. A Banton three-point play (off a nice Johnson dish) cut the Celtics lead to five with 2:30 to go, but after some entirely predictable, end-of-bench garbage time turnovers from both sides, Hernangomez put the Celtics up eight with a corner three.
But Johnson answered with a three and then Banton forced Sam Hauser into a turnover and scored at the rim to cut the Celtics’ lead to three. The Raptors then pressed the Celtics and forced Hauser into a backcourt turnover, and Dekker, into the game for Mykhailiuk, tied it with an off-the-dribble three. Two Jabari Parker free throws and a Johnson midrange J kept the score tied, but then Johnson fouled Hernangomez in the backcourt, setting up the final sequence.
Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 20 points, and he added seven assists and nine boards as well.
The third quarter saw the Celtics starters pick things up a little bit, as both Al Horford and Jayson Tatum looked to be in midseason form. The pair combined for 18 points in the quarter, and shot 4-for-6 from downtown. Horford in particular gave the Raptors headaches all night, hitting threes from all over, keeping balls alive on the glass and contesting shots, and generally looking five years younger than he’s looked the past two seasons in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. Tatum, for his part, was also at midseason intensity — he got a little worked up at some of the physical defense the Raptors threw at him and picked up a technical foul halfway through the quarter.
Speaking of intensity, Scottie Barnes was his usual exuberant self all night, as he filled the boxscore with nine points, eight assists, five rebounds, and two blocks. He also showed us that he can get up there:
Facing a big first-quarter deficit, the Raptors bench closed the gap and kept the team in it in the second. Mykhailiuk opened the quarter on a quick 5-0 run with a hard drive to the rim followed by a three-pointer. Justin Champagnie also continued his strong play, with a steal and a bucket early. But the Raptors also showed some improved defense in the quarter, closing out better on shooters and clogging the lane more effectively than they did in the opening frame. That led to seven Celtics turnovers, which in turn led to the Raptors getting up the court and into their offense more quickly.
On one such occasion following a Romeo Langford missed three, Barnes took a pass from Fred VanVleet on the right wing and backed Tatum down in to the middle of the key, before turning and dropping a nice fadeaway. It was one of Barnes’ smoothest looking buckets yet, and he followed that one up by attacking Al Horford and dropping a short runner a couple plays later. The rookie also hooked Gary Trent Jr. up at the rim, and Gary had his best quarter of the preseason, shooting 3-for-6 and scoring 10 points in the quarter, including a buzzer-beating three that gave the Raptors a 59-57 lead at halftime.
OG Anunoby also had a big second, which included another fine showing of him shrugging off defenders around the hoop:
Anunoby followed that bucket with two threes off the bounce that bring the Raptors back in the game. He finished with 17 points and five boards in another solid preseason performance.
After a sloppy start from both teams, the Raptors pulled to within three with three minutes to go in the opening quarter, after a beautiful Scottie Barnes dish to a cutting Trent Jr. But the Celtics went on a 12-0 to to close the quarter, and it looked like this might be another long night for the Raptors — much like Thursday’s loss to the 76ers.
That Celtics run also had a scary moment for the Raptors, after Robert Williams collided with Fred VanVleet in the open court, leaving the Raptors guard sprawled on the parquet floor for a good minute. After getting checked out, VanVleet quickly rejoined his teammates on the floor, and went on to finish with 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from downtown. So all’s well that ends well — but that’s something you never want to see, especially in a preseason game.
Thankfully, everyone emerged healthy from this one, and the Raptors have to feel pretty good about the effort they gave getting back into this one and nearly forcing overtime.
The Raptors are back in action tomorrow at home where they’ll host the Houston Rockets.