The Toronto Raptors were the last team to play its In-Season Tournament game. They certainly made the wait worthwhile.
The Raptors lost to the visiting Boston Celtics, 108-105, dropping their first of four tournament games. The Celtics were led by Jaylen Brown, who scored 23 points and made a critical defensive stop on Pascal Siakam with the Raptors threatening to push its lead to two possessions in the final two minutes.
All five Boston starters scored in double figures. Kristaps Porzingis chipped in with a solid line of 14 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. Jayson Tatum ended the game with 17 points but was ice cold from beyond the arc, shooting 1-for-11 from three, despite the absence of OG Anunoby, who is still
giving every child an excuse not to do their chores recovering from a lacerated finger. Derrick White had a fairly quiet 10 points over the first 47 and half minutes, but his corner three with 28 seconds left broke a 103-103 tie and, ultimately, won the game for Boston.
The resurgence of Siakam continued as he scored 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting, to go along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He spun around All-Defense guard, Jrue Holiday, for multiple layups. Late in the fourth, Siakam hit a fadeaway over Tatum to give Toronto a 2-point lead with 3 minutes remaining. He constantly attacked the rim, even as Porzingis and Al Horford were camped in the paint, and made baskets in the paint. Pascal was easily the best player.....when he was on the floor.
The first half was split into two very different quarters. In the first quarter, the Raptors were scoring at will against the league’s best defense. Toronto scored in each of its first four possessions — all at the rim. They continued attacking the paint, growing the lead to 24-16 on 10-of-12 shooting.
Darko drawing up a Siakam post up!!— Jonathan Chen (@jonathancchenn) November 18, 2023
A simple cross screen from Schröder on the right block and Siakam spins his way to the rim.
The Siakam post-up is good process https://t.co/yIUjAVVanc pic.twitter.com/Jy1S62v9WX
The turning point happened shortly after when Siakam, who was leading the team with 8 points, picked up his 3rd foul with 3:54 left in the first quarter. The Raptors would hold their own to end the quarter with a 32-26 lead, thanks mostly to its ability to get to the basket. Toronto outscored Boston 22-10 in points in the paint.
Darko Rajakovic opted to keep Siakam on the bench for the entire second quarter. Boston held Toronto to 4 points in the paint. They held the Raptors to 6-of-21 shooting in the quarter. The Celtics shot a very efficient 15-of-25 in the second quarter. Add all of those statements together and Boston headed into the half with a 16-point advantage after outscoring the Raptors 39-17 in the second.
This game had all the signs of a repeat to Saturday’s drubbing in Boston. Darko may have given an inspiration speech in the locker room during the break, or maybe it was the presence of Siakam returning to the floor, but Toronto came out of halftime on fire. Dennis Schroder (twice), Scottie Barnes, and Gary Trent Jr. all hit triples within the first 96 seconds of the third quarter to quickly trim Boston’s lead down to 67-61.
Schroder, — who hit a season-high 5 threes — Trent Jr., and Jakob Poeltl would play the entire third quarter (Pascal played all but the final 15 seconds of the quarter) as Toronto continued its furious comeback. The Raptors would eventually tie and take the lead at one point, but Boston entered the fourth with an 84-81 lead.
Similar to the first quarter, the Raptors found success getting into the paint. Draining a few threes to start the half helped open up the paint, where Toronto outscored Boston 16-6.
The fourth quarter had all the highlights of boxing match with each team seemingly delivering death blows. Toronto claimed the lead 88-86 on a Barnes three that almost blew the roof off Scotiabank Arena. Boston quickly regained control with a pair of triples from veteran, Al Horford. A three-pointer by Malachi Flynn, followed by a pair of defensive stops, set the stage for Barnes to vault Toronto back into the lead, 93-92 — this time with a layup off a Siakam feed. As if to foreshadow the final moments of the game, it was White’s triple that gave the Celtics the lead again.
Outside of a very forgettable defensive performance in the 2nd quarter, Toronto went toe-to-toe with the East’s best team — a team that thoroughly trashed the Raptors by 23 points just 6 days ago — it was hard to believe this team was without its best defender, his replacement starter (Otto Porter Jr., who was a late scratch for personal reasons), and Thaddeus Young (illness).
This probably shouldn’t be buried at the bottom of this recap but the tournament-only court design looked better than most (all?), bias aside. But don’t take that from me, just listen to the reigning WNBA Finals MVP, A’ja Wilson.
Toronto might have the best in season tourny court https://t.co/F3NJFO0z9B— A'ja Wilson (@_ajawilson22) November 18, 2023
As for the jerseys, well....ummm....look at that, I’ve hit my word count limit! I asked a Raptors employee who was wearing the ‘Drip Gold’ sweater on their thoughts on the colour scheme, “I’m happy we only have to wear these twice.”
The Raptors do not have many games that are nationally broadcasted. This one wasn’t either but it was high-profile enough to get some celebrities into the building. Fat Joe was sitting courside. Drake received a loud cheer when he popped up on the jumbotron in the third quarter intermission. But the loudest ovation went to Buffalo Bills Safety, Damar Hamlin, who recently returned to the field, less than a year after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game.