Despite the encouraging showing in Wednesday’s blowout win in Washington, the Raptors were back to their old selves against the Celtics tonight.
With Boston on the second half of a back to back, missing three starters (including arguably their two best players), coming off of a game in which they trailed by nearly 20 points at half and having needed overtime to beat the streaking Detroit Pistons, Toronto was licking their chops coming into tonight.
Jaylen Brown was back in the opening lineup after missing the Pistons game, meanwhile Jayson Tatum, Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford were all ruled out. For the first time in three years, Luke Kornet drew into the starting lineup in an NBA game.
While the Celtics went small, Darko Rajakovic stayed big with the same starting lineup that beat the Wizards by 30 points just a few nights ago. Point-Scottie was back as Gary Trent Jr. remained the starting SG with Dennis Schroder coming off of the bench.
The size difference didn’t make an immediate impact, whereas the shooting prowess did. Straight from tip off, the Celtics game plan of ‘shoot the lights out’ was clearly on display as only one of their first four shot attempts came from within the arc.
No Tatum, Porzingis or Horford. Hasn't mattered. Celts can still shoot the lights out. They came in ranked 1st in 3-point makes & attempts. Through 7 mins, they're 6-for-8 from distance with Brown going a perfect 4-4. Raptors down double digits early, because of course they are— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 30, 2023
The Raptors focused their offence on running through their point forwards and exploiting their size advantage. Barnes fed OG for a close dunk, Siakam went to work in the post hitting a short jumper and kicking it out to GTJ for a three on the ensuing possession. Trent Jr’s three put the Raptors up by four before a Jaylen Brown three shrunk the lead to one. Both teams missed a handful of shots before Derrick White knocked down another three and Jrue Holiday laid it up off of a turnover for an 8-0 Celtics run and a Raptors timeout.
Toronto, down by four coming out of the timeout, exchanged buckets with Boston to reduce their lead to three before another Celtics run. Brown’s three straight threes put Boston on a 9-0 run and the Celtics led by 12. The Raptors called another timeout to end the run and brought in Boucher and Porter Jr for some much needed three-point prowess.
On a side note, the Celtics subbed in... Neemias Queta for Luke Kornet? With all due respect, I have no idea who that is. With it being only his 31st NBA game across three seasons I feel like I get a pass for that.
Anyhoo, the seven foot frame of Queta was an imposing presence on the floor as Rajakovic went small with Jakob Poeltl off the floor for Boucher. The teams exchanged twos as Toronto whittled away at the double digit deficit. Noted Boston Celtic, Dalano Banton, caught an alley oop from Payton Pritchard to re-establish the 10 point difference. That sentence hurts my 2021 self.
The Raptors continued to chip away at the Celtics’ lead before Neemis Queta showed up with an offensive rebound and bucket to lead a 7-0 Celtics run that ended the quarter.
Sike, it was actually a 12-0 run, as Boston opened the second quarter with a Luke Kornet dunk and Sam Hauser three. If you’ve been keeping track, you’ll know that means the score sat at 40-20 for the Celtics. Toronto’s point forwards decided that was enough and stepped up, combining for the next 25 Raptors points. Don’t worry though, the Celtics kept scoring too.
Pascal Siakam & Scottie Barnes in the 2nd quarter:— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) December 30, 2023
27 PTS, 10/13 FG, 5/6 3FG
All other Raptors:
6 PTS, 3/12 FG, 0/5 3FG
Brown led the way for Boston as the role players kept knocking down their threes as the home team led 55-45. The quarter would end 68-53 as Boston started pulling away again with production from all over their unconventional starting lineup. Luke Kornet’s layup to give Boston their 68th point also tied the quarter in scoring, meaning the Raptors were actually winning the quarter up until that point.
Poeltl and Siakam assisted on each others close range shots to open the second half. Unfortunately the Celtics also decided they could score and began exchanging buckets again. Anunoby, Barnes, and Jrue Holiday hosted their own little three point shooting contest as the three players combined for five straight threes as Toronto did their best to keep chipping away at the Celtics’ lead.
Both teams exchanged buckets for essentially the remainder of the quarter, the Celtics occasionally extending their lead, then the Raptors shortening it, back and forth. Barnes nailed a three with 30 seconds to go to cut the deficit to 11, then Brown ruined the fun and made a layup with nine seconds left to bring the score to 99-86 after the third. Though only two points closer, the Raptors won the third quarter 33-31, the offence showing it could keep up with Boston and just needed a solid run to be right back in the game.
That run came immediately as the fourth quarter started. Jalen McDaniels opened the scoring with a three and scored all but two of Toronto’s points in a 10-0 to cut the lead right down to three points. Kornet’s and-one doubled the Celtics lead, before former Celtic Schroder knocked down a three, assisted on a Scottie Barnes layup and hit another three to give Toronto the 104-102 lead.
Boston called a timeout and immediately tied the game with a Brown layup. The Raptors threes continued to rain down with Barnes re-establishing the lead. Fouls would do the Raptors in as sending Brown and White to the line cancelled out the McDaniels layup and cut the Raptors lead back to one possession.
Toronto called timeout and seemingly gave the momentum back to Boston as a successful coaches challenge eventually led to a White three to re-take the lead. Siakam drew a foul for a chance to take the lead back but only made the first of two free throws, tying the game. Thankfully White missed his next three, as the Raptors came back down the court and fourth quarter superstar McDaniels made another three to give Toronto the lead back.
A quick Brown layup cut the lead to one, as McDaniels attempted another three, this time to no avail. Schroder grabbed the rebound and took matters into his own hands, also missing his shot. No-longer fourth quarter superstar McDaniels then committed a foul on the ensuing possession, putting White to the line as he made both free throws. White continued his reign of terror, making a quick layup off of a Barnes missed shot and the Celtics held a three point lead going into a Raptors timeout.
Barnes redeemed himself by knocking down a catch-and-shoot three to tie the game with 47 seconds left, but got no help on the other end as Kornet caught an alley oop to take the lead back.
With 15 seconds to go, Kornet committed a foul on Schroder and Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla again used his coach’s challenge. This time, the call on the floor stood, sending Schroder to the line. With a chance to tie the game, he missed the first and made the second, bringing the Raptors to within one.
This one went right down to the wire, as a foul sent Holiday to the free throw line where he also missed one and made one. Trailing by only two points, Toronto put the ball in their budding superstar’s hands; Barnes went up for a contested layup, missed the shot, and the Raptors fouled Holiday once again.
Holiday again missed one and made one, this time in reverse order and Siakam grabbed the rebound, threw it over to OG for the buzzer beating attempt, although the shot did not get off in time. The game had seemingly ended, as both teams crowded the court to give each other the customary good game fist bumps.
Oh, a foul? The refs would review and yes, there was a foul on the play. Derrick White was called for a foul on Siakam before Pascal had gotten rid of the ball, meaning the former All-NBA player was heading to the free throw line.
Down by three, there was no hope of tying the game on free throws alone. Instead, Siakam knocked down the first and Rajakovic put in the biggest players he could from the bench.
Achiuwa and Anunoby outside the three-point line, Poeltl and Barnes lined up on the key and all awaited a Siakam miss for a chance to put it back up and tie the game. Up the ball went, off the back of the rim, and it bounced off of Barnes’ hand as the mass of tall men competed for the chance to swat at it.
Scottie Barnes tonight:— MVP4 (@UTD_m4) December 30, 2023
30 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST, 42% FG, 7/15 3PM, 3 BLK
Pascal Siakam tonight:
27 PTS, 5 AST, 56% FG, 2/5 3PM, 2 STL
MASAI PLEASE GET THEM SOME HELP. pic.twitter.com/clvVdmf2cb
There it was, a very typical Raptors game as of late. Go down big, stage a nearly miraculous comeback, and fall just short after giving your fans hope that you could pull it off. The fans weren’t the only ones let down, however, as Raptors players themselves should be disappointed at blowing their chance of redeeming their pizza party coupon for having a three game win streak.
Breaking News: There will be no Pizza Party for the Toronto Raptors until 2024. pic.twitter.com/22QeqB4iEQ— عمر عثمان Mike Tyson’s Translator (@OmerOsman200) December 30, 2023
Instead, they will get another chance to begin a pizza party streak when they visit Detroit tomorrow night and either extend the longest losing streak in NBA history, or forever be known as the team that they finally beat. Please, for the love of god, don’t lose that game.