The Toronto Raptors blew yet another golden opportunity against a shorthanded team, losing 106-104 to the Boston Celtics Saturday evening — despite playing one of their best all-around games in a while.
Unfortunately, a fourth quarter marred by poor defense at the three-point line, and some odd timeout calls, doomed them on this night.
With the Celtics leading 101-95 with just under four minutes to go, Gary Trent and Pascal Siakam went on a 8-2 run to tie the game at 103, with Trent draining two huge triples. Scotiabank Arena was as loud as it’s been all season after the second, and when the Raptors played one of their best defensive sequences, nearly forcing a shot clock violation and getting a Payton Pritchard miss, it seemed like momentum was on their side.
Then things got… weird.
Trent had a fantastic chance to tie the game as he got a step on Al Horford, but his layup rolled off the rim, deflating the crowd. Except Trent promptly stole the ball right back! Nick Nurse then unfortunately called for time with 15 seconds to go, even though the Raptors had a numbers advantage after the steal.
After the timeout, Siakam drove right into Horford, who tied him up; the officials called for a jump ball. Nurse then used his final timeout, apparently to challenge the call, but seeing as there was no play (foul) to challenge, it was just… a wasted timeout. Horford won the jump, only to be tied up by Barnes, and Horford again won the next jump. Old Al just wouldn’t be denied! It was Celtics ball, up two, with 3.8 seconds to go — and the Raptors without any timeouts left.
But amazingly enough, it wasn’t over yet.
A Celtics offensive foul on the inbounds gave the Raptors the ball back with a chance to tie or win; unfortunately, they were stuck in the backcourt with no timeouts, and Siakam turned the ball over as he tried to create separation near half court.
That was, finally, all she wrote.
Siakam shook off a funky first quarter to finish with 29 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Trent added 22, and Precious Achiuwa, who had one of his best games of the season, especially defensively, chipped in 17 and 11.
The Raptors got some bad news pre-game, when Fred VanVleet was scratched with rib soreness about 30 minutes before tip-off. Achiuwa started in his place — his first start of the season — and looked like he had a looooottt of excess energy to work off. He tried to go 1-on-many twice early, and turned it over both times (and picked up a frustration foul the second time). He did it again on a fast break a few minutes later, and was promptly pulled. You gotta imagine that’s some thing the coaching staff works with him on! Fortunately, he settled in after that, and took the Jaylen Brown assignment in the second half after OG Anunoby left the game with an ankle injury.
The Celtics played this one without Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart and Robert Willimas both left the game at halftime with ankle and knee injuries, respectively. Brown led all Celtics scorers with 27, but it was Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams who were major difference-makers off the bench; they scored 23 and 25, respectively.
Things actually looked good for the Raps early — in fact, it looked like the Raptors were actually running an offense! A solid pick and roll led to Trent finding Barnes to open the scoring, and a second well-executed play got OG a three behind a Precious screen. Anunoby then ran out for a fast break dunk made it 7-2.
The Celtics, meanwhile started out ice cold, 1-for-6 to start before Jaylen Brown got it going. He drove to the hoop, drained a three and dropped an and-1 fadeaway to tie the game at 10.
Nick Nurse gave Thad Young a chance for the second straight game, after benching him for two weeks; he came in for Precious at the 4:45 mark and promptly scored in the post with a nifty baseline spin. He played 24 minutes and finished with 8 points.
A flurry of jumpers from Trent and Barnes extended the Raptors’ lead, and it was nice to the see the Raptors respond, rather than simply whither, when Brown starting going off.
But the Celtics were too disciplined to allow big runs to go unanswered. Trailing 25-14, Boston ran off a 12-2 spurt to close the quarter, with all 12 coming from Brown and Brogdon, to cut Toronto’s lead to 1, 27-26, after one. And although the Raptors were solid on both ends for much of the night, this particular stretch saw some pretty stinky Raptors offense — you know, they kind we’re used to by now — and some troubling defensive lapses that we have, unfortunately, also gotten used to.
Both trends continued into the second, unfortunately. The transition D completely evaporated and Brogdon promptly gave Boston their first lead a minutes into the period; he and Grant Williams combined for Boston’s first 12 points of the second as the Celtics built a 38-34 lead. Every bucket looked distressingly easy, like the Raptors were a team from the local YMCA playing pickup.
And offensively? The Raptors went away from pretty much everything except “give it to Siakam and let him try and create.” And with the Celtics throwing multiple bodies at him, Siakam couldn’t get anything going, and but the midway point of the second quarter, he had more turnovers (3) than points (2).
Still — sloppy execution or not, the Raptors’ jumpers were falling. They shot 55% in the half, with Trent living in the midrange. Achiuwa, too, got a couple of drives to finally go, including an and-1 off a sweet dish from Siakam that made it 48-47 Raptors.
Siakam then finally started to get it going; sure, it was mostly in iso situations against Horford, and mostly settling for long twos, but hey — the Raptors needed whatever they could get. He drained a beauty of a stepback over Brogdon to make it 55-49 Raptors, and then a couple plays later, scored on a layup right before the half — after Marcus Smart was injured in a collision. Smart would not return, and the Raptors went into halftime with a 57-50 lead.
The bad news for the Celtics only got worse at halftime. Not only was Smart done, but Robert Williams was also sidelined for the second half with a hyperextended knee. Brogdon and Luke Kornet started in their place, and Precious immediately scored an acrobatic layup over Kornet with an and-1, and then nearly threw down another on his head. Trent Jr. then scored on a drive and it was apparent that the Raps felt they could get to the rim in Williams’ absence.
About 3.5 minutes into the frame, O.G. Anunoby turned his ankle and had to be helped to the locker room; he also would not return. In his absence, Trent continued to play well, hitting a jumper and a drive to maintain Toronto’s five-point lead. Achiuwa had a sensational block on Brogdon (after getting blown by, but still) that led to a Siakam fast-break bucket, giving the Raptors a 76-69 lead and forcing Boston to call for time.
Coming back from the break, the Celtics turned to Brogdon, who had it going. His back-to-back triples cut Toronto’s lead to 1; he scored 10 in the frame. But the Raptors closed strong, with Achiuwa and Siakam scoring at the rim, and Achiuwa adding a stepback-fadeaway corner three in front of the Celtics’ bench. Unfortunately the Raptors fouled Grant Williams before the buzzer and his two free throws cut the lead to four, 85-81, heading into the fourth.
Siakam was massive in the third, finishing the frame with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, adding five rebounds — and no turnovers.
Naturally, he deserved a rest (he played the entire third) and the Celtics took advantage; they started the fourth quarter with three straight threes from Brown, Williams and Payton Pritchard to completely flip the script. Combined with Williams’ free throws from the end of the third, it was an 11-0 Celtics run and suddenly they had a five-point lead, their largest of the game to that point.
Siakam and Achiuwa returned (after only a two-minute rest) and immediately connected to stop the bleeding, and Siakam scored again on a drive after a Brogdon miss. But the Celtics couldn’t miss from downtown. Brown and Pritchard both scored again from deep, giving the Celtics a six-point lead, 98-91. They started the quarter 6-for-7 from downtown, and finished the game shooting 46% from three-point range.
Achiuwa then scored on a drive, and the Raptors made a couple of solid stops at the rim on both Horford and Williams, but their inability to guard the three-point line burned them again — Pritchard hit another three to give the Celtics an 8-point lead with 5:50 to go, forcing Nick Nurse to call for time.
The Raptors didn’t do themselves any favours with a couple of incredibly lazy passes leading to turnovers, but I’ll give them credit for (finally) getting back in transition, and not giving up anything easy at the rim.
After a Brown turnover, Trent’s first three cut the lead to 101-98; after Brogdon and Siakam traded buckets, Trent added another trip to tie the game at 103, leading to the zany final sequence.
The Raptors are back it tomorrow, when they host the New York Knicks.