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Raptors hang tough, but lose to Celtics 132-125

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The first half of the regular season is over, as the covid-ravaged Raptors fought hard but couldn’t come away with a win in Boston.

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics Photo against Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

This is the first time in eight years the Toronto Raptors won’t have representation at All-Star Weekend. Having that presence on one of the league’s biggest stages has typically felt like validation for the Raptors, who don’t spend a lot of time on the tip of tongues at TNT or ESPN. This season, though, that validation doesn’t mean much of anything — sending everybody home for a week of rest sounds a whole lot better.

The Raptors are finished the first half of the season and it’s safe to say they’re reeling.

Tonight, the team was once again missing 60% of their starting lineup — OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam — along with Malachi Flynn, Patrick McCaw, Nick Nurse, and five more members of their coaching staff due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. While the remaining bodies played a whole lot better than they did on Wednesday against Detroit, this is still a huge mountain to overcome for an NBA team. They nearly got there, but the cream rose to the top in the end. Boston took the victory at home 132-125, sending Toronto into the break and the second half of the season with a record of 17-19.

If you ever need another example of the “make-or-miss league” trope, take a look at the Raptors tonight vs. last night. After shooting 44.2% from the field and 33.3% from three against the Pistons, the Raptors had no problem pouring it in at TD Garden — especially in the first half. Toronto shot 21-for-50 from three overall, with all of Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Stanley Johnson(!), Norman Powell, and Chris Boucher making at least three triples in the game. Every Raptor who saw the floor in the first half got in the scoring column, a marked change from the supporting cast failures a night ago.

There was some history too. Boucher notched a career-high of 30 points coming off the bench, making 11-for-15 from the field and 5-for-9 from three. Lowry, while having an off-night shooting the ball (5-for-18), made up quite a lot of that ground with helpers — tying a franchise record with 19 assists. Meanwhile, Powell was great again, scoring 25 points on 17 shots, and Davis kicked in 22 points (though he struggled defensively and eventually left the game with a sprained ankle late in the fourth).

Even Aron Baynes, bless his soul, had 13 points and nine rebounds in the starting lineup. Scoring just looked easy for the Raptors, even through stretches where Boston tested them with zone defense and overloading Powell and Lowry on the strong side.

It was on the other end where they ended up losing the game. Missing three guys who play 30+ minutes on a regular night damages defensive communication and the Raptors just made too many gaffes against a talented Celtics team. One of the league’s top teams in producing off turnovers, Toronto was only able to win the differential 16-13 and sent Boston to the free throw line continuously, with a 40-17 free throw attempt discrepancy really standing out.

Of course, that’s also the modus operandi of the Celtics’ stars, as Jayson Tatum in particular shone. Tatum had a team-high 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, needing just 15 shots on an efficient shooting night. Tatum was a +20 and looked it, making key shots with the Raptors pressing in the fourth to keep the visitors at bay.

Boston also got solid numbers from their bench, with Grant Williams scoring 17, Jeff Teague scoring 14, and Payton Pritchard (this guy!!) adding 10 on 3-for-4 shooting.

The Raptors’ next game is March 11 against Atlanta, and the team will hope a full seven days is enough to bring players back from their health and safety protocols. Of course, we also have to worry about the extent of infection with those guys, and how effective they can be coming back from a nasty virus.

The break is here and I’m sure the Raptors are thankful. Hopefully, on the other side, they can take stock and start putting together some wins.