The Toronto Raptors returned home tonight, only to find a sleepy crowd, an energized Boston Celtics team, and three whistle-happy officials waiting for them. It all added up to an odd game with little to-no rhythm that took approximately 153 hours to play — and ended up in a 109-97 Celtics win.
The game was close through three quarters; though the Celtics led most of the way, the Raptors kept hanging around, even taking a 73-71 lead with just under four minutes to play in the quarter. But the Celtics finished the quarter on a 9-3 run. The Raptors looked to make a push early in the fourth, as Svi Mykhailiuk — starting for the injured Gary Trent Jr. — went on a mini 5-0 run to cut Boston’s lead to one, 84-83. But the Celtics responded with a 10-0 run and never looked back.
Fred VanVleet led all scorers with 27, on 16 shots; he also added six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Pascal Siakam added 18, along with seven rebounds and five assists, but was 0-4 from deep. Precious Achiuwa led the Raps on the glass with nine boards.
The Raptors held Jayson Tatum to just eight points, but all four other Celtics starters scored in double figures, as did Josh Richardson, who chipped in 18 off the bench. Marcus Smart led all Boston scorers with 21 points. Al Horford and Enes Kanter combined for 21 rebounds; Boston had a 53-44 rebounding edge.
Post-game, Nick Nurse seemed at least happy with the effort, calling out some of the end-of-bench guys like Isaac Bonga and Justin Champagnie for their energy. But he pointed out the Celtics’ propensity for back-breaking makes after Raptors runs, as they seemingly hit timely buckets whenever the Raptors got close.
Fred VanVleet echoed Nurse’s sentiments, saying the deeper rotation players brought the energy but the team just didn’t have enough to get it done tonight.
The story of the game really was the whistle, though, as 43 fouls were called, and the teams combined for 47 free throw attempts, and 29 turnovers. Normally I dig the 6:00 p.m. starts, because it means getting home early, but this game took so long it may as well have started at 7:30! There was no pace or rhythm to the evening, and a sparse crowd — thanks either to the snow or the early weekend start time — never really got into it.
And, missing two or perhaps three nominal starters in Trent, OG Anunoby, and Khem Birch, the Raptors had only 11 players — or 10, perhaps, since Chris Boucher didn’t get a single minute off the bench — and they looked, at times, like a bunch of players who hadn’t played much together. And when the starters came back in to close things out, they were gassed. The Raptors shot only 8-for-22 in the fourth, scoring 21 points, while giving up 29, including a couple of those aforementioned timely three-pointers.
Rookie Scottie Barnes shook off a slow start and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He even caught fire briefly in the third, hitting three straight threes at one point, and scoring 12 in the frame.
It wasn’t the prettiest of starts, for either team. The tight whistle, with a side of turnovers, gave the early part of game a pre-season-y feel. The latter saw Barnes get a quick hook as Yuta Watanabe came in to spell him after just two minutes; as for the former, Siakam and Precious Achiuwa both picked up fouls in the first minute, and then Yuta was called for a bogus blocking foul that Nick Nurse had to challenge (it was successfully overturned).
As the teams settled down, Siakam starting finding his spots in the midrange; the Celtics packed the paint to keep him from getting to the rim. His jumper is looking silky smooth of late, and he had no problem taking advantage of Boston’s scheme, scoring eight of Toronto’s first 13 points.
In addition to the early Barnes hook (he came back in and picked up a nice bucket off a dish from Siakam, who had two dimes in the quarter), another Nick Nurse rotation wrinkle had Isaac Bonga coming in early. Bonga picked up two quick fouls and looked pretty lost on offense, but did he swat a Marcus Smart layup attempt away!
The second quarter looked like it was going to doom the Raptors, as they started the frame on a three-and-half-minute scoring drought. A Flynn-Siakam-Barnes-Achiuwa-Mykhailiuk lineup looked like strangers out there, as they struggled to even generate quality looks at the basket. All the group needed was a shot of Yuta, though; as soon as Watanabe came back in, Malachi Flynn was fouled by Marcus Smart on a three, and he competed the four-point play. Following a Jaylen Brown layup, Yuta himself drained a corner three, and a Siakam breakaway jam brought Toronto back within 1.
Siakam wasn’t done at the rim; a couple of plays later Scottie Barnes flashed the court vision, hitting Siakam cutting to the hoop as Jaylen Brown took a quick nap. Barnes also drained a three, but overall, his tentative play continued throughout the quarter. In one sequence, he and Mykhailiuk tried to get the two-man game going, but neither of them could get the timing right, leading to a 24-second violation. Barnes might not be caught up on sleep from the road trip yet, and his first Toronto snow day might have left him feeling out of sorts.
The Raptors closed the quarter a perfect 2-for-1 opportunity, but VanVleet — fouled with 30.7 seconds to go — missed 1 of 2 free throws, and an out-of-control drive by Achiuwa after a Tatum turnover blew the “for 1” side. Even after a hilarious offensive foul by Marcus Smart with 1.2 seconds left, the Raptors couldn’t get a clean final shot, ending up the half down three.
Now 9-12, The Raptors’ homestead continues on Tuesday as they host the Memphis Grizzlies.