In a typical season, blaming circumstance for a loss can feel like making excuses. Every team tends to go through the same ebbs and flows, after all — a tough stretch in the schedule, a hot shooting opponent, or an unexpected injury. In 2020-21, though, it’s okay to give the Raptors the benefit of the doubt.
Playing their fifth game in seven nights, wrapping up a six-game road trip on a condensed schedule (only to now return to their not-home in Tampa), and missing their best defensive player in OG Anunoby, Toronto just ran out of answers against the Celtics on Thursday, losing 120-106.
Outside shooting and offensive rebounding were the main sources of success for Boston — who improve to 2-0 against the Raptors this season after their playoff victory in the summer — as the C’s shot 51.3% from distance and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds to Toronto’s three.
Some of that success came regardless of Toronto’s empty gas tank. Boston got unexpected performances from both Semi Ojeleye, who had 24 points and shot 6-for-8 from three, and Payton Pritchard, who had 20 points with the same outside shooting mark. They were the beneficiaries of a Raptors scheme that aimed to take away the scoring of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, which mostly worked — the two combined for just 29 of their team’s 120 points. It left shooters open in the corners and on the wings, though, and Ojeleye and Pritchard were eager to succeed. After getting hot, they even made some more difficult looks to rub salt in the wound.
Besides those two going off, though, this was mostly an ugly affair. The highlight was probably a five-minute stretch of the third quarter, when both teams just couldn’t put the ball in the bucket. I’m still waiting for someone to set this to Benny Hill.
This was another Raptors-Celtics game where a slow start came back to haunt Toronto. There was a lot of knocking on the door at different points — spearheaded by Kyle Lowry’s 24 points on 15 shots — but the Raps never busted down Boston’s lead.
Even with an improved offensive performance from Pascal Siakam, they couldn’t get it done. A man who often struggles when he sees green and white on the other side, Siakam had 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting, adding four rebounds and two assists to his efficient performance. He was confident too, a welcome sign after Pascal beat up on inferior opponents over the last week of play. Apparently, he can get it done against the defensive powerhouses too.
Norman Powell had 15 points in support, while Chris Boucher added 12 points off the bench.
Rebounding and threes just kept them out of the conversation, though — especially in the early going. Boston took a 12-2 lead out of the gate with Tristan Thompson punishing Aron Baynes’ attempts to get on the glass. While the Raptors would get out into transition later in the quarter to get their feet wet, these struggles to close possessions would hamper their ability to build momentum. Baynes looked out of his league most of the game tonight — continuing the storyline of whether the Raptors are bound to go small when Anunoby returns to the lineup on Sunday. Though his eight points and eight rebounds is a better contribution than usual, the move out of the starting lineup looks overdue for Baynes.
In the second, the Raptors really shot the ball well. The team kept firing them in at a 60% clip or better until well into the quarter, with Lowry starting 5-for-8 individually. The Ojeleye and Pritchard show balanced the scales, though, as the two would make 11 of their 12 threes in the first half alone — allowing the Celtics to carry a double digit lead into halftime.
The third is where the fatigue started to set in on both sides. While Boston’s offense started to look creaky without their surprise shooters, Toronto just couldn’t string possessions together — especially with their bench on the floor. The offensive contributions from Terence Davis (0 points) and DeAndre Bembry (4 points) were disappointing, but the lack of production from Fred VanVleet — who had just five points overall — may have been the biggest culprit. VanVleet has been asked a lot on this road trip, and while a 54-point game showed the upside of what he can do, there’s still some growing pains with his point guard play and ability to score against teams with large backcourts like Boston. The success may come yet, but this was definitely an off-night for Fred.
The Raptors just didn’t have the legs in the fourth to make an extended run, and that’s really where circumstance started to kick in. Maybe with a day or two of rest, they could roll a surprise lineup out there and will their way back into an ugly contest. There was just nobody left to do the job on Thursday. The team is exhausted, and they have every reason to be. (Aren’t we all exhausted these days?)
That day off hits now, as the team will enjoy Friday and Saturday to themselves before a date with the Timberwolves in Tampa. We wish everyone a restful couple nights of sleep.