When people bring up this year’s version of the Toronto Raptors, the word you’ll often hear associated with the team is “annoying”.
Toronto’s roster is built to be a collective pest, with a bunch of 6’8” bodies representing the ugly, hairy arms — poking, prodding and needling opponents into submission, even when it looks clumsy.
To be annoying, though, you have to put in the effort. That’s why this season is so tenuous for the Raptors — when the team has a flat effort, it’s going to be obvious... and it’s going to hurt.
Such was the case on Wednesday evening, as the Raptors came into TD Garden and got more or less flattened by the Celtics. There were bright spots, namely a rookie whose name rhymes with Dottie Carnes, but Boston overwhelmingly had more energy on the glass, made stops when they needed to, and flustered Raptors players into foul trouble on the other end. The result was a 104-88 win, as Toronto falls to a record of 6-6.
There was a bit of revenge at play for the Celtics, who lost to Toronto by 32 points in their second game of the season — one of the worst losses in franchise history (a long history, you might know).
Yet even without Jaylen Brown tonight, who’s out with a hamstring strain, and with Jayson Tatum shooting 8-for-24, Boston got away with looking excellent.
This is mostly thanks to their rebounding, as the Celtics grabbed 12 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s six and won the boards battle 44-41 overall. Robert Williams was a terror for Raptors centres all evening, especially feasting on Toronto’s small starting lineup and any minutes with Chris Boucher at the five. He tallied eight offensive boards, 13 overall, scored 16 points and was a game-high +20.
Despite the mediocre shooting, Tatum got involved in other ways, tallying 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Dennis Schröder picked up some of the Celtics scoring load as well, dropping 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
The Raptors were led by 21 points from Scottie Barnes, both thrilling and a bit disappointing. Thrilling because Barnes is always a treat, whirling into the paint, making off-balance hook shots, and continuing to connect on daring passes — he had four assists tonight. Disappointing because it means none of the Raptors big three were able to usurp his production. OG Anunoby was 6-for-14 for 14 points and had three turnovers. Fred VanVleet needed 14 shots to score 16, and Pascal Siakam had a modest eight points in 30 minutes.
As a team, the Raptors went 6-for-25 on three-pointers and turned the ball over 18 times. There was a sprinkling of other problem areas for the Raptors too — dysfunction on the fast break again, and some make-able shots inside and outside the paint that went awry.
The story for the Raptors was also about who wasn’t there, as the absence of Khem Birch loomed large against the collapsing Celtics. Siakam, Barnes and Precious Achiuwa all racked up four fouls each as they traded time attempting to stop gap the five-spot. Birch’s presence looks more and more paramount as the season continues, especially when the Raptors match up with teams who can oversize them on the glass.
Some of it is hustle too, though, so it might not be fair to lay this all on personnel. The Raptors simply had an off night in a season where there are always a handful of games. For times in this game, it was like harkening back to the Tampa days, where the team would stay within shooting distance (8-12 points) but never make the final run.
The Raptors are better than that team last year, though, and will have plenty of time to prove it over the next 70 games. Tonight was a disappointment, but the process should reveal results.